2011 New Donations, part 3

When you’re working with a local history collection, you never know the kinds of things that will present themselves. One of the most difficult things to know is what will be important for future generations to understand our current time; what should we be keeping in order to most accurately convey our place in the history of Interior Alaska?

Donor: Joshua Reuther

Blue Marlin t-shirt.

As a former UAF student and local musician, Joshua Reuther was quite familiar with The Marlin, a local pub close to campus and known for its “close quarters” and eclectic musical performances. While working many years ago at The Doghouse (now Pad Thai Restaurant) he was given a Blue Marlin t-shirt by the owner Gerry Ostrow. As with most pubs, the Marlin had undergone changes in ownership and with that change, a slight variation to the business name. The Blue Marlin name represents the bar at a time prior to ca. 1996 when it was known for having the “best damn pizza in Alaska,” according to this t-shirt. While it may seem odd to have a t-shirt in a museum collection, we actually have 13 such shirts! We find that t-shirts are a straightforward technique for representing pop culture of a local community, with their period-specific graphics and messages. They are ubiquitous, and therefore, a veritable requirement for a history collection.

Denali cookie handed out to VIPs who attended a big-top tent celebration at Tok, AK, summer 2008.

Vehicle magnet, given to contractors to signal their participation in the project.

Flying disk, used during the summer 2011 at the Meade Site, a UAF archaeological field school sponsored by Denali.

Baseball cap bearing the Denali logo.

Also donated by Reuther, an archaeologist who works for Northern Land Use Research in Fairbanks, are a collection of items used by NLUR while working on surveys for Denali – the Alaska Gas Pipeline project. The company, an LLC of ConocoPhillips and BP,  formerly closed their operations on May 17, 2011 citing “a lack of customer support.” This controversial company was conducting the preliminary surveys to move forward on a route to bring natural gas to the Lower-48, while the state of Alaska was working on a separate route through the AGIAprocess. These four artifacts bear the logo of Denali and were distributed to contractors as part of their advertising campaign and will now help serve as symbols of this story of one of the first “boom and busts” of the gas line process.

Polar bear carving by QAY.

Donor: Grace Berg Schaible

Polar bear mother and cub, carved by QAY.

Grace Schaible has long been a friend to the UA Museum of the North. Grace is known for being Alaska’s first female attorney general (1987-1989) and an avid art collector. A major component of Grace’s collection are representations of polar bears, both in 2D and 3D. In 2011 she donated two very large whale bone carvings of polar bears, carved by Ronald “QAY” Apangalook (Qaygeghutaq) originally of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. In these two lovely pieces, QAY uses baleen for the eyes and nose and in the single bear, walrus ivory for the bear’s claws. Pieces like this are especially welcome in the Ethnology collection because whale bone is a relatively stable medium that can hold up to more lengthy exhibition periods and slightly more variable environmental conditions (compared to more vulnerable materials like dyed skin or grass or sculptural materials like wood or walrus ivory).

"Porcupine Nest" by Craig E. Dorman, 2010.

Donor: Craig E. Dorman, Ph.D.

One of the last donations of 2011 is an incredible set of seven nesting baskets, made by the donor, Craig E. Dorman. Dr, Dorman is a past director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, retired rear Admiral and program director for anti-submarine warfare in the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. Most recently, Dorman was the Vice President for Research with the University of Alaska.

Dorman produces these baskets, known as Nantucket Lightship Baskets, now that he is retired. He documents them with great detail and the workmanship is outstanding. His innovations include tiny twists in the weavers and staves that are dyed or made from varied materials, as in these baskets. In this set of seven tightly-nested baskets there are a total of 4915 curls! This tiny detail is one of the reasons this group of baskets won the Division 10 Grand Prize at the 2011 Tanana Valley State Fair. We are proud to be the new owners of this treasure.

The inside of the outermost basket, showing the exquisite symmetry and precision of weaving.

Informational document developed by Dorman to accompany his lightship baskets.

A detail of the outermost basket, showing the upward and downward facing twists, in addition to the baleen and cherry staves.

The Passing of a True Friend

Museums acquire collections in many different ways. Our database lists the following modes of acquisition: Bequest; Collecting Expedition; Donation; Exchange; Fieldwork; Grant; Loan; Purchase; Transfer; and the ever-present “Undetermined” and “Various”. When the “Donation” line is selected, it often belies the true nature of the relationships that may have been established over years of communications and interactions. Just such a relationship has sadly come to an end with the passing of our dear friend Dr. Robert Lathrop, DDS. Bob was a dentist who worked in northern Alaska, starting in the 1950s, and made such a strong connection with the people in those Inupiaq communities, that he lived off the land with them, sharing their values and activities. He and his wife Petey learned the ways of the people who they served, and as such, were accepted into the communities rather than being considered just visitors.

Bob Lathrop with team leader Fluffsie, on the Kukpuk River, Alaska, March 1951.

I first interacted with Bob in 1997 while I was a graduate student working in the lab. He and his wife Petey had just made a MAJOR donation of 109 objects to the Ethnology & History department. Bob was also in the process of cleaning out a property he owned in Kotzebue, so my co-worker in the lab, Christopher Hrycko, had the extreme luck of traveling to Kotzebue to help Bob pack up some of his gear. My role was to help process that collection when it came to the museum, cataloging and organizing the objects and information.

The first thing that struck me was Bob’s attention to detail and his meticulous hand-written notes. Doctors are renowned for their horrible handwriting… apparently this does not hold true for some dentists! Bob’s writing was amazing – written with ruler-straight lines and margins, a slight angle, and a unique combination of upper and lower-case letters – full of details and heart-warming commentary. I LOVE reading Bob’s letters, lists, greeting cards, captions… anything.

An example of one of Bob's inventory lists.

In 1998 I was fortunate enough to visit Bob and Petey in their home in Anchorage, along with my then graduate advisor, Molly Lee. There we shared a cup of coffee and lots of stories, and began a friendship that continued for over a decade. In 2000, Bob and Petey donated three items – a lynx parka was added to our permanent collection and a pair of boots and a sealskin bag were handed over to the education department for their hands-on collection. They were delighted that these items would be shared directly with area school children through our educational programs.

In 2001, my curator, Molly Lee, and I had the EXTREME pleasure of finding out that Bob and Petey were interested in donating the bulk of the ethnological items that they had collected during their life in “Arctic Alaska.” This turned into a 2 day road-trip to Anchorage in the Museum truck where we worked with Bob and Petey as well as a local appraiser, Joe Crusey, to evaluate, get the stories of, and pack what ended up being 333 objects. These pieces ranged from dozens of small ivory carvings (around 87 of them in fact!) and walrus tusk cribbage boards, to beautiful and functional tools of daily life. Over the next few years, Bob made several donations, totaling another 52 items.

Bob and Petey in their Anchorage home, December 1998. Photo by Molly Lee. Copyright UAMN.

Petey passed away January 26, 2003 in Anchorage. Molly and I continued to correspond with Bob, visiting him whenever we traveled to Anchorage. In 2004, Bob made the most generous and amazing gift so far – he established a University endowment to support the Ethnology & History department, with priorities of paying student salary, of purchasing Inupiaq artifacts, of conserving collections, and for any further general support of the department.

The more time I spend working with the Lathrop collection, the more I value people like Bob and Petey Lathrop and realize how very lucky our department is to have made a connection with them. Molly Lee established that true friendship with Bob and Petey and helped me to continue the process as well. I learned from her that it’s not just about getting the “stuff” and the “money” but it’s about the relationship-building that happens and how we are changed through those relationships. By learning about the people and the lives they lived while making and wearing and using these incredible artifacts, we are better able to preserve and interpret them for present and future generations. Generations who might never see work like this anywhere else.

Some of the hand-made Inupiaq artifacts from the Lathrop collection. Photo by Barry J. McWayne. Copyright UAMN.

When we received the news of Bob’s passing from Bob’s long-time-friend Harry Harvey, it was truly a sad day. The only positive being that now Bob could re-join the love of his life, Petey. When I attended the memorial service with my colleague and former head of Development at UAMN, Emily Drygas, I was surprised to feel the bubbling up of such strong emotions that I could barely tell my story of knowing Bob and Petey.

So many students have been supported through these generous friends. Countless visitors have been enlightened about the creativity and ingenuity of the Inupiaq people because of the hundreds of objects they donated. And we will continue to tell the story of the Lathrops, because it is our job (and pleasure!) to preserve these objects and their stories in perpetuity.

Petey Lathrop steering their St. Lawrence Island umiak in front of Cape Dyer, Alaska, August 1951.