Alaska State Museum
Alaska State Museum
On the first floor of the two-story structure lie the Museum's ethnographic galleries. Visitors begin their docent-led tours at a large map of the state, where they learn about the Aleut, Eskimo, Athabaskan and Northwest Coast peoples. Each of these groups is represented in the adjoining galleries.
Among the outstanding exhibits in the Aleut gallery is the varied collection of baskets woven from fine strips of beach grass. The Aleut weaving is so fine it has been compared to linen. A tiny thimble basket is on display, along with less traditional baskets made to cover inkwells and a bottle. There is a woven card case, collected by the captain of a U.S. Coast Guard ship. A bentwood Aleut hunting hat, kayak models and purses made from gut are also displayed in this section.
The Museum recently opened a new exhibit area for its Athabaskan display. The Athabaskan peoples' traditional home is Interior Alaska. Among the important pieces in this collection are masks, arrows and snowshoes. This exhibit features a diorama depicting an Athabaskan man and woman with traditional clothing and tools. These include a birch bark canoe, traditional basket and bear spear.
A 34-feet-long umiak (boat) is the focus of the Eskimo gallery. Hunting and fishing implements made of ivory, bone, wood and medal are also featured in this exhibit, as are grass baskets. Drums of animal skin and wood indicate the importance that these people place on dance. This exhibit space also has several items of traditional clothing, including parkas of bird skins and ground squirrel. There is also a diorama with a traditional-style kayak and information on the styles of kayaks made throughout the circumpolar region.
The Northwest Coast Indians -- Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian -- are presented in a gallery constructed of Sitka spruce wood to resemble a clan house, housing various artifacts.
The Thunderbird Screen, a wooden painted panel, was made for the Thunderbird House in Yakutat, Alaska, in the early 1900s. The Wolf house posts and Frog house posts were originally designed as roof-supporting posts -- these come from Sitka and Klukwan, respectively.
This part of the exhibit also contains one of the famous Chilkat blankets, bentwood boxes and the top of the Lincoln Totem, a totem pole whose carver evidently used a photograph of the president as a model.
The eagle tree diorama includes young and mature eagles, a brown bear and cub and a variety of small birds found in Southeast Alaska. Visitors ascend to the second floor of the Museum via a circular ramp that surrounds the tree, so they begin at the base and follow it upward. The experience is enhanced by a mural on the walls surrounding the ramp, depicting a Southeast Alaska scene from water level to the top of a typical mountain range.
Russian explorers first came to Alaska in 1741. Their accounts of the rich sea otter furs drew traders and hunters to the new land. Russia established several major trading posts during its reign of almost 130 years. Political pressures and the overhunting of the sea otter led Russia to sell Alaska to the United States in 1867 for $7.2 million.
Some of the more important artifacts at the Museum from this time include a Russian imperial crest of a double-headed eagle. This crest was probably given to a Sitka Native chief by a Russian official during that country's initial settlement of Alaska. The Museum also recently acquired a caftan and hat believed to have been presented to a Native chieftain by a Russian governor who was anxious to designate a single liaison for trading purposes. Personal objects from the period, icons and a large samovar are also included in this portion of the exhibit.
The American period of Alaska's history has been marked by development of the state's natural resources -- fisheries, timber, minerals and oil. This period in the state's history is reflected by a variety of exhibits. One whole room is dedicated to mining, and is constructed to resemble a rugged assay office from early days. The room includes a display of minerals found in Alaska, as well as mining equipment used in Alaska mines. Nautical history is represented by a massive lens used in a lighthouse, and ship models. A beautiful display case from a long-closed Juneau store holds smaller pieces, including tourist curios.
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Pictures and information were provided by the Alaska State Museum
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