By Steve Henrikson, Curator of Collections
For over one hundred years, the Alaska State Museum has collected and preserved art and artifacts representing Alaska's history and cultures. Given Alaska's diversity and complexity, and with limited funding and space, the museum must systematically and objectively decide what to collect. With a sense of historical perspective, and following strict criteria, the museum selects both old and relatively new items that provide a view into Alaska’s past and present.
In May 2010, the Alaska State Museum will open a very special exhibit called “From Gift to Gallery” featuring over 100 of the approximately 500 objects acquired since 2004. The show will provide fascinating information about the objects themselves and insight into the collecting process. How does a museum select items to represent life in Alaska? How does it recognize works of art that will stand the test of time? Is an object collected because it is unique and rare or because it is so commonplace and ubiquitous that it represents the daily lives of average Alaskans?
The exhibit includes a broad number of objects—from military artifacts of the Aleutian Campaign of WWII to a set of miniatures of firearms delicately carved in ivory by a Yup’ik or Inupiaq artist. It also includes a rare 1872 mural of the fur seal rookery on St. Paul Island by naturalist Henry Wood Elliott, a 19th century Athabascan girl’s dress, Tlingit spruce root baskets, and artifacts newly recovered from Alaskan and Russian shipwrecks. Together, these objects—like the collection as a whole—form a well-rounded and balanced representation of Alaska’s history and cultures.
This amazing exhibit will be at the Alaska State Museum from May 7 to October 23, 2010. It will be well worth your time to stop by with family and friends to experience this exhibit. Seeing these special objects and learning about the collection process will leave you with appreciation and understanding for the ongoing efforts to collect and preserve our legacy.
*Photo: Selection of dolls from the Gift to Gallery Show; Alaska State Museum, photograph by Sara Boesser.