Guest Blog: Symmetry in Alaska Native Design

Over the past six weeks the Department of Ethnology & History at UAMN has hosted a graduate student intern from Indiana University, Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI). Rebekah Ryan is about to earn her MA in Museum Studies. This summer she traveled to Fairbanks to expand her experiences in collections work, working on archival enclosures for artifacts, taking photos of the collections both in the studio and lab, learning how to use the new Arctos database, and undertaking research in the collection. Each year, our intern creates an exhibition at the UAF Rasmuson Library in order to put their collections-based skills to a practical end. Rebekah was intrigued by the UAF Math in a Cultural Context program after a group of elders visited the museum to view objects. She developed the following ideas using our collections to illustrate concepts of symmetry in Alaska Native Design. You can see her exhibit at the Rasmuson Library 4th Floor, near the reference desk. If you want more information on this topic, you can add a comment below.

 


 

“When we make patterns, they must be pleasing to the eye.”

Dora Andrew-Ihrke –Yup’ik teacher (quoting her mother)

What is symmetry? Most of us have an instinctual sense of what symmetry looks or feels like, but it can be difficult to define. Dictionaries define “symmetry” with synonyms: balance, proportion, harmony, consonance. In Western mathematics, “symmetry” is a correspondence in size, form, and arrangement of parts on opposite sides of a plane, line, or point.

When creating things to use and appreciate, people often respond positively to balance: symmetry of design or ideology. This broader definition of symmetry is a common element of Alaska Native designs, from using body measurements to craft custom kayaks and parka decorations, to representing the cycle of the universe.

“The balance of life – the reciprocal relations between animals and humans – requires harmony, carefulness, and keen awareness…. Materials were fashioned into pleasing products that spoke to the spirit world. The spirit world had to be placated, and skillfully crafted products helped accomplish this; objects were made precisely, and with a high level of ingenuity and creativity, these crafts encoded mathematics.”

       – Yup’ik Cosmology to School Mathematics: the Power of Symmetry and Proportional Measuring

Many Alaska Native items were custom-made for their intended owners – symmetry of the tool and its user. One of the ways to do this was to use an individual’s body to make measurements for that item. Over time, the Yup’ik peoples developed a system of anthropomorphic (body) measurements and proportions that would create an agile and dependable kayak, or tailored clothing with symmetrical decorative patterns.

Kayak Measurements:  Courtesy of Kayak Scientific Design and Statistical Analysis

Kayak Measurements: Courtesy of Kayak Scientific Design and Statistical Analysis

Skin sewing has been a fundamental skill for generations of Alaska Native women: sound stitches protected their families during all kinds of weather. Patterns are often unique to a family or person, and when incorporated into clothing, are an important means of communicating identity.

When making a skin-sewn decoration, Yup’ik women have traditionally begun with a square based on an individual’s finger measurements. Once the square was folded along its lines of symmetry to confirm that it was perfect, the square could be divided into other shapes – squares, triangles, parallelograms – even circles.

(Watch videos on the UAF Math in a Cultural Context Website where Yup’ik elder Dora Andrew-Ihrke demonstrates these skills.)

Body Measure – “Knuckle Length” (2008) Ethnomatics Applied to Classrooms in Alaska: Math in a Cultural Context

Body Measure – “Knuckle Length” (2008) Ethnomatics Applied to Classrooms in Alaska: Math in a Cultural Context

Fannie Barr Displays the Interior of the Parka to Show Emily Barr’s Sewing on the Back of the Border. 2006 Photographer: James Magdanz. Courtesy Shared Beringian Heritage Program.

Fannie Barr Displays the Interior of the Parka to Show Emily Barr’s Sewing on the Back of the Border.
2006 Photographer: James Magdanz. Courtesy Shared Beringian Heritage Program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While early Alaska Native designers didn’t employ the same conceptual labels for symmetry that are used in Western mathematics, Western concepts can still be illustrated by Alaska Native objects.  The three fundamental types of symmetry are linear, radial, and point. A shape or design has linear symmetry when it can be folded on an imaginary line into two halves that could lie perfectly on top of one another.

Linear Symmetry

Linear Symmetry

When something has radial symmetry, an imaginary line can run through the object, and the object can rotate on that imaginary axis in such a way that the patterns on it will repeat themselves before making a full rotation. Radial symmetry can be present on something round and flat, like a plate, or something spherical, like a ball.

Radial Symmetry

Radial Symmetry

Point symmetry is a bit more complicated to understand. A design displays point symmetry when an element can be flipped 180º over an imaginary point to lie perfectly on the other element.

Point Symmetry

Point Symmetry

Bilateral & Radial Symmetry
Old Dominion University – OEG Sciences
http://www.ocean.odu.edu/~spars001/geology_112/laboratory/session_08/handout.html

Point Symmetry
Math is Fun
http://www.mathsisfun.com/geometry/symmetry-point.html

Tlingit Rattle-Top Basket (0840-0045AB)  This spruce root basket displays examples of linear and rotational symmetry on its side, lid and bottom. The final type of symmetry - point - can also be seen on the side of the basket. The “s” and “z”-shaped design is called the “shaman’s hat”, and the bands on the top and bottom face opposite directions. A black “z” that is diagonal from a black “s” could be flipped up and over an imaginary point between those two figures to lie perfectly on top of that black “s”.

Tlingit Rattle-Top Basket (0840-0045AB)
This spruce root basket displays examples of linear and rotational symmetry on its side, lid and bottom. The final type of symmetry – point – can also be seen on the side of the basket. The “s” and “z”-shaped design is called the “shaman’s hat”, and the bands on the top and bottom face opposite directions. A black “z” that is diagonal from a black “s” could be flipped up and over an imaginary point between those two figures to lie perfectly on top of that black “s”.

While it may seem to be more abstract than literal examples of symmetry, ideological symmetry plays an even more fundamental role in Alaska Native design. This can be seen in balanced representations of male and female forces, and depictions of the cyclical nature of the universe.

Pair of Yup’ik Earrings with the circle-and-dot design (UA70-017-0048AB) These earrings are decorated with the “circle and dot” decoration. A Cup’ik designer drilled the first hole, and used sharpened bone or metal tubes to carve concentric circles. When surrounded by four smaller dots, the circle and dot design has been identified to represent the pathway between the world of the living and the dead, and is associated with spiritual insight.

Pair of Yup’ik Earrings with the circle-and-dot design
(UA70-017-0048AB)
These earrings are decorated with the “circle and dot” decoration. A Cup’ik designer drilled the first hole, and used sharpened bone or metal tubes to carve concentric circles.
When surrounded by four smaller dots, the circle and dot design has been identified to represent the pathway between the world of the living and the dead, and is associated with spiritual insight.

Pair of Kayak Stanchions (UA82-003-0057AB) These kayak stanchions are used to physically and ideologically support a kayaker when he’s in the cockpit. The smiling male face and frowning female face represent the necessary balance of good and bad spirits in the universe; they protect the kayaker as he travels.

Pair of Kayak Stanchions (UA82-003-0057AB)
These kayak stanchions are used to physically and ideologically support a kayaker when he’s in the cockpit. The smiling male face and frowning female face represent the necessary balance of good and bad spirits in the universe; they protect the kayaker as he travels.

The last concept to consider is asymmetry. Symmetry would not exist without an opposite. In fact, Alaska Native designers often intentionally incorporate asymmetry to create interest or highlight significant details. Art historians describe this sort of well-executed design as “balanced asymmetry.”

Athabascan Wall Pocket  (UA64-021-0202) Notice the bilateral and radial symmetry of the foundational flowers and asymmetrical arrangement of the surrounding motifs creates a balanced decoration.

Athabascan Wall Pocket
(UA64-021-0202)
Notice the bilateral and radial symmetry of the foundational flowers and asymmetrical arrangement of the surrounding motifs creates a balanced decoration.

Alaska Native design is vibrant and complex, incorporating symmetrical properties that serve practical, aesthetic, and ideological purposes. Many of these techniques have been perfected over generations, and continue to be integrated into contemporary design.

Want to learn more? Use this guide to explore symmetry in Alaska Native Design throughout the Museum of the North!

Education- Exploring SymmetrySM

Guest Blog: Operation Sandcrab

Kirsten Olson provides another interesting piece of Alaskan history. This time, inspiration came to Kirsten while working on a collection of items deposited at UAMN via a repository agreement with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2012, USFWS transferred 93 items collected from Attu Island to the museum and Kirsten spent several months cataloging, researching, and curating these items. She painstakingly constructed customized archival boxes for each piece, from pieces of shrapnel to gas masks, toothbrushes to Japanese paper dolls. She discovered the human stories behind these rusted and damaged items, and developed a small exhibit, which is on display at the UAF Rasmuson Library 4th Floor until August 2014. ~~AJL

Guest blogger, Kirsten Olson here again, this time to honor our men in arms.  May 17th marks Armed Forces Day, so to recognize this day and our soldiers, I’d like to take a moment to shed some light on a pivotal, and an often-overlooked WWII battle, the Battle of Attu.


On June 7, 1942, with a force of 1,140 infantrymen, the Japanese attacked and captured the farthest west Aleutian island, Attu. This invasion, as well as a simultaneous assault on Kiska and the attack on Midway a few days earlier, marked the peak of the Japanese invasion of the United States through Alaska.

UAA-HMC-0690-S1-1936-117a

It began as a quiet day for the 43 native residents of Attu, when they had been captured and taken as prisoners. They were held on the island for three months before they were sent to an interment camp in Hokkaido, Japan until the end of the war. They were never able to return to their island; instead they were relocated to Atka. (Image: UAA-HMC-0690-S1-1936-117a)

Etta and Foster Jones, the only white couple on the island, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Etta as the schoolteacher and Foster operated the wireless radio, reporting on the weather to the navy station at Dutch Harbor.  When the Japanese invaded, Foster was sending in his daily weather report to the Naval post at Dutch Harbor, this time ending it with “The Japs are here!”  Foster had been taken in for questioning and executed, in front of his wife, who was then swiftly sent away to a prison camp in Japan.  (Left: UAF-1970-11-66, Right: UAF 1970-11-67)

Etta and Foster Jones, the only white couple on the island, worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Etta as the schoolteacher and Foster operated the wireless radio, reporting on the weather to the navy station at Dutch Harbor. When the Japanese invaded, Foster was sending in his daily weather report to the Naval post at Dutch Harbor, this time ending it with “The Japs are here!” Foster had been taken in for questioning and executed, in front of his wife, who was then swiftly sent away to a prison camp in Japan. (Left: UAF-1970-11-66, Right: UAF 1970-11-67)

The Japanese held control of Attu until May 11th, 1943 when members of the US 17th, 32nd Infantry Regiment, and a unit of Castner’s Cutthroats began the reoccupation of Attu Island.  It was a gruesome fight with not only the Japanese, but also the harsh weather conditions that are so typical of the Aleutian chain.

Seventeen-year- old Private Donald Lynch is treated by medics after remaining in a water-filled trench for more than twenty-four hours during enemy fire.  The Attu landing forces suffered heavily from exposure, particularly with trench foot, which was the case for Private Lynch.  Castner’s reconnaissance team had warned them of the cold weather conditions and had expressly advised against the use of the leather blucher boots, but to no avail.  The clothing and equipment issued to the 7th Division was neither warm enough to withstand the biting Aleutian winds nor waterproof enough to keep out the icy rain and the water that seeped into every foxhole.  (Image: ASL-P175-053)

Seventeen-year-old Private Donald Lynch is treated by medics after remaining in a water-filled trench for more than twenty-four hours during enemy fire. The Attu landing forces suffered heavily from exposure, particularly with trench foot, which was the case for Private Lynch. Castner’s reconnaissance team had warned them of the cold weather conditions and had expressly advised against the use of the leather blucher boots, but to no avail. The clothing and equipment issued to the 7th Division was neither warm enough to withstand the biting Aleutian winds nor waterproof enough to keep out the icy rain and the water that seeped into every foxhole. (Image: ASL-P175-053)

On May 29th, after weeks of fighting the enemy and the harsh weather conditions, the Japanese had broken the US troop line and fought for a steady thirty hours.  A strange turn of events took place after the initial fury of fire.   One final banzai charge sealed the ill fate of the Japanese, and the US had regained control of Attu.  The thundering of grenades faded and more than 1,000 Japanese lay dead.  The total Japanese loss was 2,500 men, 29 were captured alive.  Of the 15,000 US troops that landed, 550 were dead, 1,500 wounded, and 1,200 were victim to Attu’s climate.

The Combat Intelligence Platoon of Alaska Defense Command, nicknamed Castner’s Cutthroats, displaying their Japanese finds from Attu.  The items include a .30 caliber clip, sake bottle, infantry cap, belt of 1,000 stitches, flute, helmet, gloves, folding water bucket, three Japanese flags, port and starboard lanterns, 20mm high explosive shells, .25 caliber rifle with bayonet and pistol.  The Cutthroats were vital to the success of the war in Alaska by going on repeated reconnaissance missions, reporting weather, conditions, terrain, and advising authorities of necessary equipment and techniques for survival in remote regions.  The University’s own Ivar Skarland, who was first a student at the then Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, and ultimately served as the Director of the University Museum and chairman of the Division of Social Sciences, was also a voluntary member of the Platoon during the war.  (Photo by Al Brittain, former Alaska Scout, in Jim Rearden, “Castner’s Cutthroats” 1990)

The Combat Intelligence Platoon of Alaska Defense Command, nicknamed Castner’s Cutthroats, displaying their Japanese finds from Attu. The items include a .30 caliber clip, sake bottle, infantry cap, belt of 1,000 stitches, flute, helmet, gloves, folding water bucket, three Japanese flags, port and starboard lanterns, 20mm high explosive shells, .25 caliber rifle with bayonet and pistol. The Cutthroats were vital to the success of the war in Alaska by going on repeated reconnaissance missions, reporting weather, conditions, terrain, and advising authorities of necessary equipment and techniques for survival in remote regions. The University’s own Ivar Skarland, who was first a student at the then Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, and ultimately served as the Director of the University Museum and chairman of the Division of Social Sciences, was also a voluntary member of the Platoon during the war. (Photo by Al Brittain, former Alaska Scout, in Jim Rearden’s “Castner’s Cutthroats” 1990)

 

A soldier's badge.  One of many personal artifacts that is currently housed at the UA Museum of the North.  (UA2013-005-0049).

A soldier’s badge. One of many personal artifacts that is currently being housed at the UA Museum of the North. (UA2013-005-0049).

Today, Attu is a National Historic Landmark, with remnants from both the Japanese and US occupation.  The village that was once home to the islanders was destroyed during the war and never reestablished.  The LORAN station, which aided in navigating the Pacific Northwest both during and after the war, was established in 1946 but was shut down in 2010.  All that stands on the island are memorials for the fallen soldiers. We are forever grateful for the service of our men and women in arms, and their fight to protect our country and our freedoms.  Thank you.

 

Museums Advocacy Day 2014

Today is the 6th Annual Museums Advocacy Day, sponsored by AAM. Yesterday and today, museum professionals and supporters are gathering together in Washington D.C. to make the case for museums. This is a national effort to share the message that museums are essential (and therefore should be financially supported in ways similar to other “essential services” in our communities). In an attempt to reach our Alaskan legislators, Museums Alaska joined with the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Humanities Forum, and the Alaska Historical Society to form CHAMP (Culture, Humanities, Arts, Museum Partners). Over several days, representatives from these organizations met together to learn about advocacy techniques, about each other’s priorities for 2014, and meet with legislators to communicate the essential role of these organizations to the well-being of our state.

Museums Alaska had as our number one priority, to develop new legislation to establish a matching grant program for museum capital projects, similar to the library program. Over these two days, we were able to find our own CHAMP, in Rep. Herron (Bethel). Introduced yesterday, House Bill 333 would establish a museum construction grant program. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this first step is a major vote of confidence and improvement in the awareness of our legislators of the role museums play in our communities.

Take a minute today to tweet a comment #museumsadvocacy, post a photo on Facebook and use #museumsadvocacy to join in the online community! Museums are Essential!

My #museumselfie in the Denali Legacy exhibition at UAMN.

My #museumselfie in the Denali Legacy exhibition at UAMN.

 

Gallery

It’s Small… but is it a Model or a Miniature?

This gallery contains 16 photos.

Collections people, like collections managers and registrars, sometimes ponder (and debate for hours) the strangest things. Do we use Last Name, First Name or First Name Last Name? Inches or Centimeters? H x W x D or L x W x … Continue reading

Guest Blog: Dogs in the North

 Mahriena Ellanna is a UAF undergraduate student in art history and indigenous art, and has worked in the Ethnology & History department at UAMN for a year. Born and raised in Alaska, and in Fairbanks since she was 5, Mahriena shares the research behind an exhibit she is assembling for the UAF Rasmuson Library. ~~AJL

I was 12 when I went to my first starting line celebration. It was for the Yukon Quest, The 1,000 Mile International Sled Dog Race. The race started in Fairbanks that year, my hometown, so I decided to go with some friends. I remember how they looked, those working sled dogs, the most anxious animals I’d ever seen. Each sled had at least two sled brakes in the ground, to keep the dogs from taking off with the sled. Sled dogs don’t need a driver to know what to do when they’re strapped into their harnesses and roped in next to each other; it’s bred into their blood and in every instinct they’ve ever felt – pull.

Effie Kokrine and her dog team. Effie was born when dog sledding was the dominant form of transportation and her father, Johnny Folger, ran a leg of diphtheria serum.

Figure 1. Effie Kokrine and her dog team. Effie was born when dog sledding was the dominant form of transportation and her father, Johnny Folger, ran a leg of diphtheria serum.

Dog sledding is one of a few forms of mushing, which is a general term for any travel method powered by dogs. Dog sledding is unique from other forms of mushing, though, because Alaska Natives used it approximately 15,000 years ago, according to research done by the Yukon Quest. Sled dogs were used for many reasons, such as, transportation of people and their belongings, hunting, and protection. Survival in the arctic would have been nearly impossible without them.

fanhitch2

Fan Hitch

Traditionally, the average team consisted of approximately 3 dogs, each with their own separate lead, spread out like a fan (Fan Hitching). This way, if one dog fell through the ice or into a crevasse the rest of the team was safe, along with the sled and driver. The dog could be pulled up by his harness and lead, then treated for any injuries.

Before breeding was popularized, a dog’s worth was based on work ability rather than looks. The most popular dogs in the north were the Inuit and Interior Village dogs. They were lightweight, but could carry loads almost three times their weight for long distances.

Inuit Sled Dog in show stance

Inuit Sled Dog in show stance

Working Inuit Sled Dog

Working Inuit Sled Dog

These dogs have a number of qualities that make them perfect for pulling heavy loads long distances. The first unique quality they possess is a stiff spine, which gives the dog the ability to evenly distribute weight through out the whole of his back (where the harness is placed) without causing physical damage. The dogs also have strong hips to push themselves forward, while their equally strong shoulders pull the harness and the sled load.

The second quality unique to sled dog breeds, such as malamutes and huskies, is the ability to change metabolism. This allows them to run for hours and hours while retaining fat storage and without becoming fatigued.

In 1741, Russian explorers came with their sled dogs. Their dogs were much smaller than the Inuit sled dogs because they were built for speed. These dogs were bred with the larger Village dogs to create a small and sturdy breed, with the same ability to pull heavy loads for long distances at an efficient pace.

The Russians brought new dog sledding concepts with them (Gangline Hitching). They developed the idea of a lead dog (the dog that drives the team forward and knows the trail and commands) increased the number of dogs in a team, changed sledding formations, added handles to the sleds, and added baskets to the sleds that were large enough and the proper shape to carry people.

Gangline Hitch

Gangline Hitch

The demand for dogs skyrocketed, especially during the Gold Rush. Sled manufacturing was commonplace. Everything changed in 1913, when the first plane flew over Alaska. Airplanes could do all the same jobs as a dog team –delivering mail, bringing supplies to villages and towns, and carrying people from place to place—more reliably and more quickly.

Photo Credit: Eric Long of the National Air and Space Museum Stearman C2B biplane; Flown by several Alaska bush pilots, including Joe Crosson—first pilot to land on Mt. McKinley—and Noel Wein—founder of Alaska’s first airline.

Photo Credit: Eric Long of the National Air and Space Museum
Stearman C2B biplane; Flown by several Alaska bush pilots, including Joe Crosson—first pilot to land on Mt. McKinley—and Noel Wein—founder of Alaska’s first airline.

Mushing isn’t a necessity of life anymore. The most common place to see dog sledding is in annual races, such as the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod, but if you’re lucky enough to come visit Alaska, you could experience it the way the first Alaskans did—by dog sled—thanks to local tour companies.

(Historic Photo Credits)

Figure 1. http://jukebox.uaf.edu/site/akmushing/content/interviews

Figure 2. http://www.nbcnews.com/travel/goodbye-sled-dogs-hello-airplanes-alaska-marks-100-years-aviation-1B8307363

Yukon Quest Logo: 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse

Yukon Quest Logo: 1,000-mile race from Fairbanks to Whitehorse

Iditarod Logo: 998-mile race from Anchorage to Nome
Iditarod Logo: 998-mile race from Anchorage to Nome

Deaccessioning: Take A Deep Breath

In this entry, I’ll describe the process our museum follows for deaccessioning objects from our permanent collection. Every museum will have a slightly different way of doing this, so this is based on my personal experiences. Before you implement your own deaccessioning policy and procedures, you should check with your governing body and be sure to understand the specific legal and ethical requirements for your own situation. There are many publications on this topic to help you craft a policy and set of procedures. As with all policies, you’ll need to have your governing body approve it before it’s fully implemented.

Most museums are established to care for their objects “in perpetuity” – i.e., “forever.” But forever is a very long time in our modern world. Deaccessioning is the process of formally removing an object from a museum’s permanent collection, which is usually that collection which receives the highest level of care in the institution (as compared to hands-on or educational collections, or exhibit props, which might be considered “disposable” and not require the same diligence when the museum decides the objects have lost their relevance or usefulness in relation to the mission of the museum, or have deteriorated beyond a useful level). It’s an integral part of responsible collections management, as long as it is carried out in an appropriate manner and with thoughtful consideration.

Navajo rug (catalog number 0392-0024) donated to the museum in 1947 to be used as office decorations. Instead, they were accessioned into the collection.

Navajo rug (catalog number 0392-0024) donated to the museum in 1947 to be used as office decorations. Instead, they were accessioned into the collection. Copyright UAMN.

In a collection as old as ours (established in 1926), the mission and collecting vision have fluctuated and the artifacts donated have followed these fluctuations. In Ethnology & History alone, Navajo rugs (see right) have been housed in the same room with Eastern Woodland beadwork and pre-Columbian ceramics. Approximately 15 years ago, our department drafted our first collections plan by stating that our collecting vision is to represent as fully as possible, the material culture of Alaska and the Circumpolar North. Anything outside of this geographic boundary should be considered for deaccessioning – our collections range simply does not have space to continue to care for objects that do not support our mission.

Drawers of non-Alaskan baskets selected for deaccessioning.

Drawers of non-Alaskan baskets selected for deaccessioning.

With this in mind, over 10 years ago I started to identify items in our collection that should be considered for deaccessioning. Finally this summer, with the excellent paperwork-generating skills of Kirsten Olson, the baskets that were separated from our Alaskan holdings by former student assistant, Micole Van Walbeek, are finally going to be moved out of our facility and on to an institution or private individual who will value them for what they are, rather than what they’re not.

The Process
This round of deaccessioning includes objects that are clearly outside our collecting mission. This is one of the criteria that are listed in our Deaccessioning Policy. Other criteria include: (1) having a lack of documentation that critically reduces the scientific or cultural value or significance of the artifact; (2) deteriorating beyond a point of usefulness; (3) represents an unacceptable hazard to other collections or museum staff. According to our Collections Management Policy, of which our deaccessioning policy is a part, in order to be approved for deaccessioning, the item must qualify under at least one criteria. Many times, items like the baskets in this round, fall under several criteria (lack of documentation and serious condition problems are those that come up most frequently).

Once an item that fits at least one of these criteria has been identified, the collections staff should undertake some research. We need to verify all legal and ethical considerations: (1) The museum has free & clear title to the piece and (2) there are no restrictions on the piece (e.g., copyright, MOA/MOU, trust agreements, donor-imposed restrictions, etc.). Some museums, as a courtesy, make a reasonable effort to contact the donor’s heirs. Particularly if the piece is outside the collecting mission and has been in the collection for many years, the family may wish to have the piece returned to them. According to IRS Form 8283, objects must be held in a museum collection at least 3 years prior to removal, or we would need to file a Form 8282 (Donee Information Return).

With the paperwork is complete, our Acquisitions Committee (a group of museum staff and community members) will review the documentation and vote on the proposed action. These discussions become part of the permanent record of the items. When the final decision is made, the paperwork is signed and a disposal method is determined. The catalog numbers are either removed from the object or crossed out and paper and electronic files are updated. NOTE: Don’t delete the catalog entry for the object and do not throw away the paper file! Even though the object will no longer be part of your collection, you need to be able to reference the fact that it did spend some of its life there.  Change the location field to “Deaccessioned” and make notes wherever relevant to describe the item’s fate.

Paperwork from a 2008 deaccession of non-Alaskan pottery. Bonham's and Butterfields sold the pieces, which generated a total of approximately $2000 in acquisitions funds for our department.

Paperwork from a 2008 deaccession of non-Alaskan pottery. Bonham’s and Butterfields sold the pieces, which generated a total of approximately $2000 in acquisitions funds for our department.

The Disposal
Disposal techniques can include: exchange or donation, transfer, sale, or destruction. The technique selected should be based on how best to support the mission of the Museum. Typically, the most controversial technique is sale. Items considered for sale are typically forwarded to a reputable professional auction house where the pieces would be available to the widest audience. This keeps the work out of the hands of the Museum, which helps ensure transparency and a level of separation. No one associated with the Museum should ever benefit personally from a sale of our collections and the funds generated through this sale will go back into a collections fund, for acquisitions or direct care of the collection.

Breathe Out
After all that work, what have we gained?
Valuable space, and possibly funding, for objects that support the mission of our museum.

Guest Blog: Erwin A. “Nimrod” Robertson

(Another guest post from graduate student Kirsten Olson regarding objects that we recently had on the cart in our lab that prompted her to do further investigating)

 The only grievance of his being was that he couldn’t drink his hot tea with them!  The story of these "wild teeth" spread and led to the telling of a tall tale of Robertson killing a bear, making the teeth, and eating the bear with its own teeth! Catalog Number UA73-009-0001

Catalog Number UA73-009-0001
The only grievance of Robertson’s was that he couldn’t drink his hot tea with them in! The story of these “wild teeth” spread and led to the telling of a tall tale of Robertson killing a bear, making the teeth, and eating the bear with its own teeth!

I’ve come into the lab on many occasions to find some pretty intriguing objects that are so eclectic and unique, that I simply had to share.  Last week I discovered a set of dentures on our lab shelf and I had to know more!  Turns out, they belonged to Erwin A. “Nimrod” Robertson, an early Alaskan pioneer from Maine who settled along the Yukon near Eagle in 1898.  He used his homemade teeth, forged from an aluminum pot lid set with a mix of carved sheep, caribou, and bear teeth, for about 25 years.

Over the forty years he spent in the Eagle area, he had many occupations including placer mining, dentist, jeweler, as well as serving on the Eagle Common Council, Chief of Police, marshal, magistrate, and attorney.  Because of his inventive genius, he was an all around tinkerer, making inventions and fixing things for people.  “Nimrod”, an endearing nickname given to him, was quite the resourceful genius and the teeth were just one of his many inventions.

He made hunting blades from large wood files that were tempered by a secret processes.  It was said that these knives would trim the corrugation off a silver dollar as easily as an orange peel with a paring knife.  He was well known for his gold puzzle rings and would give it away to anyone who could take it apart and put it together again within a specified time.

This is the motor to "Nimrod's Bird Machine".  “To lift, or rise, and propel itself through the air by up and down strokes of its wings as a bird.  Power for moving wings to be supplied by specially designated gas engine or by specially adapted commercial gasoline engine”  (According to Robertson's own description of his invention)  Catalog Number UA79-004-0001

Catalog Number UA79-004-0001
“To lift, or rise, and propel itself through the air by up and down strokes of its wings as a bird. Power for moving wings to be supplied by specially designated gas engine or by specially adapted commercial gasoline engine” (Robertson’s own description of his invention)

In our collections we also have an aluminum motor that he fabricated to go along with an early airplane he engineered called “Nimrod’s Bird Machine” that he had patented in 1892 or 1894.

Another of his creations is a famous and impressively accurate 60”x 80” relief map of the Eagle area, which he constructed from newspaper, magazines, hematite and moose blood.  The map was sent to Seattle in 1909 for the Alaska-Yukon Exposition and again in 1962 for the World’s Fair.  Today it’s on display at the Eagle Historical Society & Museums.

At 81 years old, in 1940, he decided to make a prospecting trip to his placer mines at Seventy-mile, Alaska.  The weather that November quickly turned on him. Realizing he was short of provisions and would unlikely make it home, he pulled up his parka hood and lay to rest, never to wake again.  Later, his body was recovered and buried at the Eagle Cemetery.

Guest Blog: Purgatory on the Yukon

(Taking advantage of some brain power of one of my graduate student curatorial assistants, this posting is written by Kirsten Olson of UAF. William Yanert is one of the most intriguing “characters” of Interior Alaska history and the subject of numerous inquiries to our department. This is a condensed version of a paper Kirsten wrote for an art history course at UAF.) 

It was late in the evening when I was working in the range, putting away a cannon ball in one of the larger cabinets when I found myself nose to nose with a large carved devils head!  It had strikingly green cat-like eyes, a black painted face with two red stripes on both cheeks, and needless  to say, scared the pants off  me! Once I recovered from the initial scare, I went back to lab and checked the data base to learn more about the terrifying head I encountered.

I  discovered that it was the creation of William Yanert, an early Alaskan pioneer.  After further research,  I had become intrigued by his devil’s head and other carvings in the collection.  During the spring semester, I was given an opportunity in an art history class to do more in-depth research on William Yanert, employing the museum’s collection of his work.

William YanertYanert was born in Olschyna, Prussia on March 3rd 1864 and immigrated to the US around 1881 and shortly after enlisted in the U. S. Army.  While in the army, Yanert served with the Fifth and Sixth Calvary in the Indian Wars, trained in cartography, and was dispatched in 1897 as a member of Capt. Edwin Glenn’s Alaska Exploring Expedition, scouting and reporting on the conditions between Skagway to Lake Bennett (later this trail became the Chilkoot Trail of the 1898 gold rush).  He was assigned to map the Haines Mission and surrounding country, various tributaries of Susitna River, as well as reporting on and mapping the Healy and Talkeetna Mountain area. As a civil engineer, he mapped regions of McKinley Park and Dyea area.  He was also the first man to explore Broad Pass, where the Alaska Railroad runs through.

Herman (Left) and William (Right) Yanert standing outside of their cabin on the Yukon; with moose horns hung over the door and a carved sign that read, “Search not the world for happiness, You’ll find her not on land or sea, no use looking for her address, for she lives right here with me”

Herman (Left) and William (Right) Yanert standing outside of their cabin on the Yukon; with moose horns hung over the door and a carved sign that read, “Search not the world for happiness, You’ll find her not on land or sea, no use looking for her address, for she lives right here with me”.

St. Nicolas was carved from a birch burl, with horns, green bottle eyes, and red cape draped around his shoulders.

St. Nicolas was carved from a birch burl, with horns, green bottle eyes, and red cape draped around his shoulders.

After his army career, Yanert retired in 1903 and was determined to make his place amidst the land he had come to love so much.  He built a cabin and named the land in the Yukon Flats he claimed “Purgatory“, because it was “one hell of a place to live”. A few years later, William’s brother, Herman, came to join him.

Over the years, the brothers had developed quite the reputation for peevishness.  Steamboats, carrying tourists, had stopped at Purgatory to stock up on wood, Alaskan hospitality and the Yanert’s practical jokes. This included the devil’s head that I had stumbled upon.  The “devil” was named St. Nicolas, and dubbed the Patron Saint of Purgatory.   William had him wired to the cabin so that he could wave “hello” or “goodbye” to those passing by on the Yukon.  Other devils and imps were carved out of the burls from birch trees and rigged up like jack-in-the-boxes.

Anyone coming down the river was welcomed at Purgatory by St. Nicholas and the brothers, even unexpected guests such as the Evancoe brothers, who in 1937, were floating down the Yukon River. According to a letter Paul Evancoe  wrote to the museum in 1976, he recalled that they had fallen asleep, and were “awakened by a gruff voice, ‘Why the hell don’t you fellas come up to the cabin?’…so we pulled our kayak ashore and proceeded to the Yanert cabin situated back a short distance from the river bank…Well, we spend three of the most delightful days as their guests.  Inside their cabin were shelves of carvings that they made of wood, ivory, and bone.”

"The Stampeeder".  William used whatever materials he had available to him, including cigar boxes!

“The Stampeeder” Yanert used whatever materials he had available to him, including cigar boxes.
Catalog number 0768-0038

William would carve and paint a range of characters, including those from Shakespearian plays such as Othello, Desdemona, and Yorick as well as scenes of the people who lived in Alaska; mushers, natives, hunters, and gold miners.  These images were often done on cigar boxes that had been repurposed as a painting board of sorts.

UA0768-0006

Catalog number 0768-0006

He also carved figures from moose or caribou antlers. The carvings, inspired by the pioneer life he lived, also reflected his philosophy on life, which would often accompany his work in title form, or with a snippet of poetry that was incorporated into the work.  Later, he published a collection of his poems, titled Yukon Breezes, accompanied by his hand colored illustrations.

They spent their lives surviving off of and surrounded by their hard work.  Their cabin at Purgatory was filled with handmade furniture and decorated with carvings.  The front of the cabin was bedecked with totems, some more than twenty feet high.   In the 40 years he lived there, he only left once, when his health took a turn for the worse in the fall of 1941 and a year later, he passed away.

The majority of his works, carvings, paintings, photographs, and a copy of his poem, Yukon Breezes, were donated to the University of Alaska Museum of the North by Ralph Newcomb and Herman Yanert in 1943.  The collection in the museum is just a snippet of what was once the glorious and remarkable Purgatory.  We can sill enjoy the humor and sincerity of William’s artwork in the Alaska Classics Gallery in the University of Alaska Museum of the North, as well as the writings and photographs of the Yanerts in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives at the Elmer. E. Rasmuson Library here, at UAF.

 

It’s Worth How Much?!?!?!?

Image

This morning, while I chatted with my 3-1/2 year old son over coffee, my husband shared a story he was reading on the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner’s website. The AP story, “Rare century-old $5 Alaska bill to be auctioned” by Rachel D’Oro, described an upcoming auction sale of an extraordinarily rare piece of Alaskan paper currency. My husband knew about a similar piece that we had accessioned back in 2009, which I have shared with the Tanana Yukon Historical Society as well as the Fairbanks Coin Club in past presentations. At each presentation (the TYHS presentation only included a photo while the FCC folks got to see the real thing in person) viewers were in awe of the perfect specimen in our collection.

The history of our $5 bank note is mostly blank: we received it from former UAF Rasmuson Library Alaska and Polar Regions archivist, Anne Foster, as a “found in collection” piece. We have a standing MOA with the library that states that all photographic, manuscript, and other similar items (i.e., items that contain information) are to be curated at the archives while all 3D and object-type things (i.e., more ephemeral or decorative items) come to the Museum to be curated. As a result of this agreement, the archives staff and I are old friends and are always calling each other up with statements like, “Hey, I found this thing in the collection and I think it needs to come to you. When will you be near the library/museum next?” So when a unique $5 bank note showed up in a box of items from Anne, I was not surprised to learn that they had no information associated with it and we started our own internal research to accompany our Preliminary Justification Form to the Museum’s acquisitions committee.

Having just come back from maternity leave, I had my student, Micole VanWalbeek do that web-based research. What she found included an auction sale of the same (P)7718 stamp and red seal, but a serial number and different signatures. The number in the upper right corner was also different. That particular $5 note sold for $27,600 in 2006. I promptly put our bill into our vault.

The story in today’s paper describes a bill seemingly identical to ours. Upon closer comparison, the only difference seems to be a small “B” on our bill, as compared to the “C” on the bill up for auction, the plate designation. The auction house representative quoted in the article describes there being only four of these bills printed.

So this is sometimes how the documentation about items in museum history collections is collected. My file on this piece now has twice the number of citations as before. The catalog entry in my database will be much more rich, and our insurance assessment will be much more accurate. Guess I’ll keep my eyes on this story, and others, that are connected to this early form of paper currency in Fairbanks.

 

Sharing the Legacy

One of the aspects of my job that I really enjoy, is working on special exhibitions. Finding a topic that has broad appeal and developing a new way to present it to the public. A little over a year ago, our museum started to think about a possible exhibit to commemorate the centennial of the first ascent of Denali’s South Peak (20,327 feet). This 1913 group included Hudson Stuck, the charismatic Archdeacon of the Yukon; soon-to-be first superintendent of Mt. McKinley National Park, Harry P. Karstens; Walter Harper, the athletic, intelligent, and dedicated trail companion of Stuck; and Robert Tatum, postulant for holy orders at the St. Mark’s Mission in Nenana. Joining the group were two young men (each in their mid-teens), John Fredson and Esaias George, also studying at Nenana, who played essential parts in the ascent as well.

1913 crew, from left: Robert Tatum, Esaias George, Harry Karstens, John Fredson, Walter Harper.

It is the exciting story of their ordeal climbing “the great one” that we will tell, in partnership with the Denali National Park staff, during the summer of 2013 in the exhibition Legacy: 100 Years on The Mountain. Narratives taken from the journals of each climber will guide visitors through their journey from Fairbanks, to the peak of the mountain, and back down again. We will also learn about the men, as individuals, and how this event pulled them together as well as drove them apart.

Hudson Stuck with one of his dogs.

As we develop this story, we seek the assistance of our community in identifying potential artifacts associated with these people and their legacies. Anyone with information about items used on the 1913 ascent are asked to contact me or the museum.

I look forward to sharing the stories of these incredible men and the legacies they left behind. Join us next summer for the exciting celebration of this amazing event.