This article was written by 2019 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund Scholarship recipient Angela Linn. Read more from Angela on her blog here.
The 2019 Museums Alaska / Alaska Historical Society Joint Annual conference marked the 20-year anniversary of my first trip to Kodiak. Back in September of 1999, I was fortunate enough to receive funding to attend a workshop co-hosted by the Smithsonian’s Center for Museum Studies and the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological repository, entitled “MUSEUMS and NATIVE PEOPLE: Audiences, Community and Collaborations.” At that time, I was literally just transitioning from being a 27-year-old graduate student assistant working for the University of Alaska Museum part time, to being a full-time benefitted staff member – my first “real” professional job. Looking through my pages of notes and the printed agenda with articles shared during that workshop, I find it compelling that many of those topics continue to be important today and in fact, were echoed at many of the Museums Alaska sessions I attended.
Our keynote address on Thursday morning by Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko entitled “Discomfort & Renewal: Decolonizing the Museum” introduced many in the room to the concept of decolonization. This is a sometimes-controversial approach to various disciplines that seeks to transform institutions created by western power structures by acknowledging centuries of abuse at worst, and systematic exclusion at best. Catlin-Legutko described her personal experiences at the Abbe Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine as she worked with her board to eventually arrive at an organizational process aimed at sharing authority, privileging local knowledge, and truth-telling for the local Wabenaki people. As I review my notes from that keynote and compare them to those from the 1999 workshop, similar concepts catch my eye. The Indigenous participants at the workshop expressed a desire to represent their own stories in their own words, but recognized not everyone in their communities had the same perspective of that shared history. Alaska’s communities grapple with our colonial history, manifested as often battling perspectives on the Russian occupation, the value or detriment of European and American anthropologists and collectors removing early examples of material culture, assimilative education policies including English-only boarding schools, and the generational trauma resulting from those 150+ years of mistreatment and restriction of power. Catlin-Legutko reminded us that decolonization is one of many processes and approaches we might employ to make our museums, and communities, more diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive. Museums and their staff operate from a position of privilege and often within a structure that (perhaps unknowingly) has supported institutional racism over the years. Participants in my 1999 workshop reminded each other that first we must avoid exclusion, and only then can we move on to inclusion. It’s a subtle but important distinction that is worth our time to consider deeply.
Ellen Carrlee’s excellent session on “Indigenous Participatory Collections Care” was the perfect follow-up session to the keynote, with her insightful and introspective examination of the traditional field of conservation and their thirteen points from AIC’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice. Ellen provided a number of examples from Alaska museums where conservation projects employed a collaborative approach with local and Indigenous knowledge holders to both promote a high level of collections care while also respecting traditional approaches and needs of Indigenous community members. She admitted to her own feelings of discomfort over a Chilkat robe project where her local weaver took a more aggressive approach to the care of the tassels than Ellen was prepared for. This served as an excellent example of how, as part of the decolonizing approach advocated for by many professionals, we can learn to give up some control over our collections and share authority with those whose knowledge can provide a more culturally-appropriate way to achieve our mission. The 1999 workshop attendees suggested museums come up with projects to break down barriers, and that the use of local experts for highly specialized tasks like this acknowledges that oral and practiced knowledge is as valid as that gained through academic and professional training.
As a current Interdisciplinary PhD candidate at UAF working on a museum studies project, I was particularly interested to hear from Selena Ortega-Chiolero and Bethany Buckingham-Follett in their session entitled “Spirit and Vision at IAIA: An Indigenous Approach to the Field of Museum Studies.” They were joined telephonically by Asst. Professor and Department Chair Felipe Estudillo Colón from Santa Fe as he presented the guiding principles and goals of the museum studies program at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). This unique undergraduate and online certificate program centers their philosophy on teaching a balance of practical skills needed to become a museum professional while encouraging their students’ ability to analyze various models of cultural stewardship. Faculty foster the exploration of “uncharted and expressive directions in the field of museology” while giving opportunities for hands-on learning in a wide range of museum settings. Both Selena and Bethany spoke with excitement about the online program as an opportunity to expand their knowledge in museology on their own time, while specifically being provided with examples centered in Indigenous cultural centers rather than the standard western museums often cited in traditional museological texts. The AIAI program is inspiring as we at UAF look at re-invigorating our Museum Studies courses and consider how we can create a curriculum firmly based in northern topics, including Alaska Native pedagogy.
In considering such work, I am inspired again by the attendees of the 1999 workshop who suggested concrete actions to help museum staff be more culturally-responsive:
These suggestions sound very similar to what our keynote speakers, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko and 1999 workshop attendee Sven Haakanson, Jr., promoted in their final panel together: consider who we, as museum professionals, are serving and how we can prioritize their needs. Museum professionals of the 21st century must be true to our mission, while also creating safe spaces for diverse audiences, avoid exclusion, demand accessibility, and seek out opportunities for equity. It is no small task – but I have confidence in my Alaska peers that we are fully capable of not just meeting these demands, but of leading the way.
The Alutiiq Building, home of the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository.
This article was written by Museums Alaska member Leslie Fried, who is the Curator at the Alaska Jewish Museum.
I recently had the opportunity to take a trip back to the East Coast where I grew up. It turned out to be a time not only for visiting relatives, but also some of those places that were important influences on me as a child and young adult.
I went to Jones Beach and Tobay Beach on Long Island where I spent long summer days swimming and collecting shells. I also visited my 101- year-old Aunt Mildred in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn where I honed my curatorial skills by recording family stories on my Tascam DR-100 digital recorder, a device similar to the one I use at the Alaska Jewish Museum for doing oral histories. It is easy to operate and very unobtrusive. Needless-to-say, some of my aunt’s memories were a revelation!
Sharing stories was a common thread on this trip as I got together with a high school friend from Frankfurt, Germany that I hadn’t seen in 53 years. We spent quite a bit of time in Manhattan exploring the Museum of Modern Art as well as the Metropolitan Museum. She found it fun that her best friend from 10th grade could quite easily guide her through the paintings, drawings and prints with ease, familiarity and back stories. Shamelessly, I basked in the glory!
Every year or so I revisit certain art pieces that have influenced me throughout my life, and this time was no different. I made a pilgrimage to Giacometti’s “Palace at 4 A.M.,” an assemblage at MOMA that I have found evocative since my teenage years (above). At the Met, I visited some of my favorite Greek figurines in the Greek and Roman galleries (below). These tiny sculptures influenced me greatly during my years as a decorative painter and plasterer in Seattle.
My trip ended in Philadelphia where I visited the National Museum of American Jewish History where my sister Susan and I were treated to a private tour with the Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions and Interpretation, Josh Perelman, on the same day that the exhibit, Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginzburg, was being taken down. The Museum’s core exhibit, Dreams of Freedom, that chronicles the Jewish experience in America dating back to the 1500’s was wonderfully curated but made no mention of the Jewish experience in Alaska. I therefore decided upon my return to Anchorage that I would contact Mr. Perelman about doing a presentation in Philly next winter when I visit again. A traveling exhibit is also a possibility.
Image 1: Palace at 4 a.m. by Alberto Giacometti. (Swiss, 1901–1966) 1932. Wood, glass, wire, and string, 25 x 28 1/4 x 15 3/4" (63.5 x 71.8 x 40 cm)
Image 2: Greek Terracotta Figurines, 3rd to 4th Century B.C
Friends and Colleagues,
Museums Alaska has exciting plans for 2020. This year will be different than last year, with new opportunities for professional education. Why? Because you asked for it! Recent surveys show that our members want more training, in new formats, and on a broad range of topics. We’ve taken your requests to heart and are planning a series of webinars and a special annual meeting this year. We are also re-imagining our annual conference. Museums Alaska will meet in Valdez in 2021 and we are starting to plan a gathering with longer format sessions and workshops—so we can learn even more from each other.
Here’s a look ahead.
Museums Alaska 2020
Museums Alaska 2021
Advocacy Fly-In, Juneau, January 2021
As always, we value your ideas. We know that many people would like longer conference sessions, workshops, and access to content online. As we plan for Valdez, let us know what topics you would like covered. Or join our program committee and help to plan the conference.
Looking forward to working with you,
Della Hall, Executive Director
Dear Alaska Census Taker,
You know why your work taking the census matters for the future of Alaska. The data you collect will determine federal funding, state and federal political representation, and more.
However, have you considered how much your work matters to history? My job is to help museums across Alaska, and let me tell you, the census is a HUGE help to curators, historians, genealogists, and many other kinds of researchers who rely on census data to understand the past. The census is an essential primary source in Alaska, as it provides an unparalleled snapshot in time.
I want to show you a few census pages from 1900 to show you how we use the census to understand Alaska’s past.
This census record on the left was taken in 1900 in Nome and illustrates that people came from all over the country and world to mine a Bering Sea beach. Not one person on this entire page has a home address in Alaska. Census officials clearly presumed that this would be the case across Alaska when they designed the questions, as another census question asks a person to differentiate between their profession at home and their profession in Alaska. Those answers indicate that many of Nome’s residents in 1900 were novice miners, who spent their professional lives in the Lower 48 working as electricians, farmers, carpenters. From this single census page, we see evidence of how the allure of gold infected the country and resulted in waves of inexperienced individuals travelling from afar with the hopes of striking a lode.
Many are familiar with the story of Nome. However, the census also captures communities, individuals, and data points that otherwise might be absent from the historical record.
Below you will see a 1900 census sheet from Klukwan, a Tlingit village in northern Southeast Alaska. This record is meaningful for genealogy, as descendants can find their ancestors listed by their Tlingit names. Moreover, the census sheet shows us the vibrant economy of Klukwan—a place where nearly all were engaged in artistic production as a means of making a living. For example, Cheesach was a blanket weaver, making Chilkat robes. We see that Trakowish was a canoe maker. We see that many people in Klukwan made their livelihoods from beadwork. This data provides a documentary record of the meaningful artistic legacy of Klukwan.
My dear census taker, I hope that these examples show you that with each census entry you record, you are creating a historically valuable document.
As you make your rounds, consider that you are but the most recent in a line of Alaska census takers that reaches back to 1880. One hundred and forty years ago, census taker Ivan Petroff (pictured here) sailed, rowed, hiked, and dogsledded across Alaska to count residents. Every ten years since, your enumerating predecessors went from mining claim to cannery, from fish camp to fox farm, from military base to village, recording Alaska’s population in fair weather and in foul.
What persists across those 140 years is your service. Thank you for counting Alaskans now and in so doing, creating a reliable snapshot in time that people generations from now will study and appreciate. Thank you for your role in making Alaska history.
Nome 1900 census page
Caption: The census taken in Nome in 1900 indicates the large number of people who were temporarily in Nome to take part in what was for them a temporary occupation—mining.
Klukwan 1900 census page
Caption: The census taken in Klukwan in 1900 demonstrates the long-lasting artistic legacy of this Tlingit village.
Ivan Petroff takes the census
Caption: Ivan Petroff takes the 1890 census on Kodiak Island. Petroff was involved in the 1880 census, as well. From Robert Porter, Report on the Population and Resources of Alaska (Washington, DC: GPO, 1893).
For Immediate Release
DATE: January 30, 2020
END: February 25, 2020
Della Hall, Executive Director
Patricia Relay, Director
Valdez Museum & Historical Archive
In February, Michelle Cullen and Patricia Relay from the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive, and Della Hall and Selena Ortega-Chiolero from Museums Alaska will travel to Washington, D.C. to join hundreds of museum professionals from across the country for Museums Advocacy Day, hosted by the American Alliance of Museums, February 24 & 25, 2020. The purpose of the visit is to share the important work that museums do with their legislators.
Joined by over 300 museum leaders and professionals from across the country, Cullen, Relay, Hall, and Ortega-Chiolero are proud to be attending Advocacy Day. After past years’ Museums Advocacy Day visits, all Alaskan legislators have joined in support of continued funding for important federal grant programs and agencies that support museums.
In Alaska we have over 100 museums, cultural centers, and historic properties that preserve and exhibit our history. Rooted in their communities, they are anchor institutions that deliver education services, research opportunities, exhibit local art and culture; provide public programs, and generate revenue through cultural tourism.
Alaska’s cultural affiliations and geographic distances are immense. Federally supported grants are vital to our cultural organizations, especially in remote communities such as Valdez. Valdez, population 3800 has one venue in which artists can exhibit their work. It is only through the Alaska State Council on the Arts Community Arts Development Grant, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, that the Valdez Museum can provide a venue for local and regional artists.
The American Alliance of Museums’ publication Museums as Economic Engines: A National Report, is an unprecedented economic study to quantify the economic value and impact of museums nationwide. Researched and prepared in partnership with Oxford Economics with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this comprehensive report outlines the economic benefit of museums, including jobs, direct spending, and supply-chain effects. Museums support their communities, and create jobs and wages that are vital to the health of their hometowns.
Relay stated, “Gathering in Washington DC each year with museum professionals to advocate for the field from around the country has been such a wonderful and beneficial experience. The fact that our little delegation travels so far to make a case for the important work that museums do in Alaska highlights our dedication to the field. I am so thankful for to Alaska’s representation for their recognition of this effort and their willingness to meet with Alaska Museum professionals about supporting the arts and humanities in the great state of Alaska.”
Della Hall became the Executive Director of Museums Alaska in 2017. She holds an MA from University of Delaware in History and Museum Studies, a BS in History, Technology, and Society from Georgia Institute of Technology, and has worked with museums for over a decade. Hall has served on the Alaska State Historical Records Advisory Board, and currently serves on the board of the Coalition of State Museum Associations, which will hold its annual meeting at in conjunction with Museums Advocacy Day for the second time this year.
Selena Ortega-Chiolero has been the Museum Specialist for Chickaloon Native Village, an Ahtna Athabascan Tribe in Southcentral Alaska, since 2018. She holds degrees in Art History and Asian Studies from California State University, Sacramento, and is currently completing a Museum Studies indigenous certification program through the Institute of American Indian Arts. Selena has been part of the Alaska museum community for the past ten years working in a variety of areas including museum administration, development, curatorial, collections, exhibitions and programs. She is currently serving as the Board Secretary and Advocacy Task Force Leader for Museums Alaska.
Patricia Relay became the Executive Director of the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive in 2010. With over 20 years of experience, she has a lifelong love of museums and cultural organization. She believes that museums and galleries are much more than places to store relics and artifacts. Museums serve as vital community resources that provide gathering places where thoughtful exhibits and educational opportunities co-exist, bringing communities together to learn, to play, and to delight in. Ms. Relay and her family moved to Valdez, Alaska from Bellingham, Washington in 2010. I cannot see myself anywhere else. Valdez is a wonderful place to call home. She Bachelor of Arts in Art History (2001) from Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington and a Master of Arts in Arts Administration (2008) from Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland.
Michelle Cullen has been involved with the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive as a volunteer, summer programs director. She is retiring from the VMHA Board of Directors after 9 years of service and she will continue to volunteer and help with advocacy. She works as an adjunct professor at Prince William Sound College in Valdez where she teaches Solar System Astronomy. Michelle has been an advocate for the Museum in local, state and National venues. This is her 5th year participating in Museums Advocacy Day.
About the Valdez Museum:
The Valdez Museum & Historical Archive is an active place. We bring the stories of our community's history alive through our programs and activities.
For more information please visit our website at www.valdezmuseum.org or on Facebook and Twitter.
About Museums Alaska:
Museums Alaska supports museums and cultural centers in Alaska and enhances public understanding of their value. To accomplish its organizational purpose, Museums Alaska maintains a central office to receive and disburse information about museums, cultural centers and their activities, and to collect and share professional opportunities. Museums Alaska organizes an annual meeting to focus on the needs of Alaska museum professionals, volunteers, and their institutions.
For more information please visit our website at www.museumsalaska.org.
On January 1, 2020, Museums Alaska reached an important milestone. We hired our first, full-time employee. This is an administrative change. Support long furnished by a contractor will now be provided by a staff member. The Museums Alaska Board of Directors enacted this change to advance the organization’s mission and professionalize our practices. We are proud of this achievement and the stability it brings to Museums Alaska.
The development of a staff position was part of our organizational strategic plan and took several years to implement. Although there is no change in cost, Museums Alaska needed policies and procedures to support staff management. Under the leadership of past President Molly Conley, and current President Monica Garcia Itchoak, that work is now complete.
Della Hall, who has served as our contract Executive Director since February of 2017, has accepted the new staff position with the same title. She will continue to serve as Museums Alaska’s Executive Director from our office at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.
Della came to Alaska in 2013, as an intern with the Alaska State Museum Grant-in-Aid program and has experience with museums across the state. She has worked for the Pioneer Air Museum, University of Alaska Museum of the North, Tanana Valley Railroad Museum, Alaska & Polar Regions Collections & Archives at University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Western History Association. She joined the Museums Alaska Board of Directors in 2015 and stepped down to become our Executive Director. She served on the Alaska State Historical Records Advisory Board and is a current board member for the Coalition of State Museum Associations.
Please help us say thank you to Della for her continued service. We are lucky to have a skilled and dedicated employee with a passion for Alaska’s museums. This change in position provides Della with the opportunity to more actively shape the work of Museums Alaska. We look forward to supporting her.
The Federal Public Buildings Reform Board, created by Congress in 2016 to identify and dispose of high-value Federal real estate, is recommending the sale of the building that houses the National Archives in Seattle. The report can be found at https://www.pbrb.gov/.
The records from the National Archives center in Anchorage were moved there when it closed in 2014. If the Seattle facility is closed, the closest NARA facility for Alaskans will be in San Francisco. The report indicates the archival records at Seattle will be moved near Riverside, California, and the federal agency records will be moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Alaska materials will be farther out of reach for researchers, students, attorneys, and government agencies.
Timeline: The Office of Management and Budget is expected to approve or reject the recommendations by the end of January 2020.
Please consider sending comments to Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Representative Don Young by email through their webpages: murkowski.senate.gov; sullivan.senate.gov; donyoung.house.gov.
You may also send comments to the Public Buildings Reform Board by sending an email to email@example.com.
Lastly, you may contact the Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the webpage archives.gov.
The following article was written by 2019 Donna Matthews Professional Development Fund conference scholarship recipient Randi Gryting.
At the AHS-MA 2019 Kodiak conference, I attended a workshop led by Ellen Carrlee, where I learned the value of detailed condition reporting. Information about an artifact that is collected and recorded can be a baseline for future comparison.
This data is invaluable because it can indicate that specific damage was pre-existing, that an object is actively deteriorating, that poor environmental conditions exist, or that the object is or is not suitable for loan or for exhibit. These recorded details can help identify a lost object or be the determining factor if there is confusion between two (or more) similar objects. The condition report can be part of the evidence if something is stolen. It may support an insurance claim, it might alert staff to look for a piece that is missing, and it can influence acquisition decision-making. Detailed condition reports may help plan improvements to preservation environments.
Carrlee explained that when filling out a condition report, it is important to be very thorough and to not use simple categories such as Excellent/Good/Fair/Poor to describe the artifacts. Broad categories like this are not sufficiently descriptive. Critical/Serious/Slightly Damaged/Stable Condition Currently are better choices; however, a complete description of every notable part of the object is desired. It is very helpful to use photographs and/or drawings to support the documentation. Photos may be printed and then drawn upon to show specific locations of damage or interest. The report should include dimensions - not just of the overall size of the object but also of a smaller, damaged section or area of interest.
The seminar highlighted that documenting current artifact conditions makes it easier to monitor any changes in the future. Words such as: “use-related wear” are important to note because it helps tell the story of the artifact. “Inherent vice” indicates normal deterioration such as: plastics yellow, glass weeps, etc. and may indicate that your object is not further deteriorated than another similar item.
While documenting damage, it is also recommended to document what is right or good about each artifact. Descriptions like “no missing bead-work,” “often missing but not this time,” and “no obvious evidence of insects or insect damage,” show that the artifact is superior in that area.
Finally, I learned that it is important to use words to indicate that we are not 100% sure about what we are describing. Phrases such as “might be,” “looks like,” “seems to be,” “probably,” “likely,” and “I feel really confident that…” etc. are appropriate because even experts are not sure about some things!
What a great workshop! This training will be useful in improving the quality of condition reports at the Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum. Thank you to the Donna Mathews Professional Development Fund for awarding me a scholarship enabling me to attend the conference!
The Alaska State Museum, in partnership with Museums Alaska, is conducting a survey of Alaska museums. This survey, mandated by AS 14.57.010(7), is conducted every 10 years.
To help you prepare to take the online survey, please use this template to gather relevant information:
Your participation in the 2020 survey is essential. This once-a-decade survey is akin to the census for Alaska museums. Your participation will help us to promote the important work of our sector and communicate our needs. We will use the data to determine field-wide funding and training priorities, advocate for museums, and measure how Alaska’s museum field has changed over time.
Gail Anderson & Associates will be creating a report from the submitted survey data, and you will receive a copy of the report. This report will be an accurate and telling profile of Alaska’s museum community—a profile that will be useful to you.
Please submit answers for your institution to assure your museum is counted. Only one response from each institution is needed. You should have received an email invitation from Alaska State Museum Curator of Statewide Services, Anjuli Grantham. If you did not receive an invitation, and you believe you should have, please contact us to verify your contact information.
Ten of Alaska’s collecting institutions, in seven communities from Sitka to Fairbanks, have been awarded $102,220 in grants. The awards will support the acquisition of artwork through a fund created by Rasmuson Foundation and administered by Museums Alaska.
The Art Acquisition Fund invites museums and culture centers to submit proposals to purchase recent works by contemporary Alaskan artists. Now in its seventeenth year, this initiative has helped institutions across Alaska enhance their collections, interpret contemporary themes, and support hundreds of visual artists. This fall, ten museums received a total of $102,220 to purchase 20 pieces of artwork from 15 Alaskan artists—including works in media of acrylic, oil, mixed media, carving, fabric, beadwork, spruce root, elk hide, and walrus ivory.
This round, a commission of 10 oil paintings was funded. The Alaska Aviation Museum will purchase the portraits made by Christine Smith depicting animals significant to Alaskan aviation history.
The fund will offer additional grants in 2020. For eligibility information, application deadlines, and submission directions, please visit the Museums Alaska website.
Museums Alaska is a statewide professional organization supporting Alaska’s collecting institutions and their staff members and volunteers. The non-profit organization supports the improvement of museum services and promotes public awareness of the value of the state’s museums and culture centers. A nine-member volunteer board governs Museums Alaska with funding from memberships, grants, gifts, and sales.
ART ACQUISITION FUND AWARDS NOVEMBER 2019
Alaska Aviation Museum
Christine Smith Nome and Back Again $1,200
A commission of ten oil paintings $5,000
John Hume Black Wolf Squadron $4,200
Alaska State Museum
Amy Meissner Materfamilias $8,000
Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository
Andrew Abyo Sugpiaq Angyaq model $4,500
Mary Jane Longrich Nootka Rose $500
Melinda Abyo Woman's Headdress $5,000
Patricia Abston Cox Emerald Isle Headdress $1,700
Woody Koning Sound of Fog $1,225
Amy Meissner Fatigue Threshold $7,000
Rachel Mulvihill Dream House $650
Rachel Mulvihill Southern Exposure $650
Ilanka Cultural Center
Sylvia Lange Raven Catching Some Rays $500
Sylvia Lange Young Eagle Dreams $500
Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center
James Heaton Flying Raven #5 $7,000
Kodiak Historical Society
Lena Amason-Berns It's All Love Now $6,500
Sealaska Heritage Institute
Nicholas Galanin A tú (Inside a closed container) $22,250
Sheldon Jackson Museum
Delores Elizabeth Churchill Untitled $15,000
University of Alaska Museum of the North
Da-ka-xeen Mehner Gaaw Kootéeyaa $10,125
Da-ka-xeen Mehner Take n Give (after Erica Lord) $720
Sign up to receive Museums Alaska emails
Mailing AddressMuseums Alaska625 C StreetAnchorage, AK 99501
Thank you to Rasmuson Foundation for their generous support of Museums Alaska and the entire museum field.