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To Sitka and Back Again

August 8, 2011

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve updated this blog. Probably more than a couple. Not because nothing has been going on…quite the opposite, actually. So much has been going on, that I lost track of time and just now realized how long it’s been since my last entry. But now the rain has come back to Juneau and my friends and family have come and gone…leaving me with newly found time to get back to blogging. Here’s a not-so-short list of what I’ve been up to:

    • Went to Sitka, Alaska and worked for 3 days at the Sheldon Jackson Museum (SJM).

      Sheldon Jackson Museum, Sitka, Alaska

      The SJM is part of the Alaska State Museum (ASM) and Ellen tries to visit at least once or twice a year. To get to Sitka we had to take a ferry from Juneau and we needed a vehicle that would allow us to deliver some supplies to Sitka and to bring back some artifacts that would need treatment in the conservation lab at ASM. We didn’t take just any vehicle, we took the work van…the awesome work van that is actually more like a bread truck:

      Museum "Bread" Truck

      While at the SJM, we surveyed the collection in search of white stuff for my research project. We also worked on a couple of objects that could be treated in situ. I replaced an ivory piece that had become detached from a wood cane:

      SJ-II-X-141: Eskimo Cane, After Treatment - round ivory inlay (furthest right) has been reattached.

      The Sheldon Jackson Museum has a great collection. It was a little too easy to get distracted by all the incredible items as I conducted my search for white stuff. I can’t show all my images on here, but trust me it was amazing. I saw drawers and drawers of the most beautiful little ivory carvings – including a little ivory narwharl figure (my favorite), boxes of tiny ivory birds, rows and rows of baskets, parkas, tiny fur lined booties, and too much more to mention. My favorite piece is on exhibit. It is a war helmet worn by the Tlingit leader Katlian (K’alyaan) in the 1804 battle against the Russians in Sitka. It is made of wood, fur and copper for the eyes. Any description I attempt will not do it justice. Suffice it to say, it’s impressive and the gravity of the history associated with it gave me goosebumps. You can read more about this battle, Tlingit history, and see an image of the helmet at the following website:

    • Worked on research for my “What’s that white stuff?” project. I don’t want to give too much away yet…the website for this project will be up and running soon. But I will say I’ve been learning a lot about leather, wood, bone, glass and a slew of other materials. I’ve learned quite a bit about fatty bloom, salt efflorescence and mold too. And strangely enough, even though my allergies should send me screaming in the other direction, I’ve become quite intrigued with mold since I’ve been out here. So much so, that I think I’m going to study it for my preventive minor next year! I’m geekily excited about this and can’t wait to get started on that project.
    • Began fur identification on a variety of furs on a Yup’ik parka in the collection of the Alaska State Museum. This is part of a condition report/technical study that I’m currently working on. Ellen and a previous intern, Lauren Horelick, did a lot of research and developed a website – the Alaska Fur ID Project – that makes fur identification a lot easier with helpful data and comparison images.
    • I’ve also done a bit of hiking and took advantage of some fantastic weather while my friend Kathy was in town. You can see images from our adventures on my Flickr page. A couple of those days the temperature got up into the low 70’s – the warmest it’s been all summer! I even got the slightest bit of sunburn!

      Enjoying dinner at the crab shack after a day of hiking in the sun

If you can’t tell, I’m having a great time and I’m a little sad that I only have a few weeks left. However, I am looking forward to a road trip I’ll be going on with the Carrlees this week. We’re touring the Golden Circle Route through parts of Alaska and the Yukon. We’re planning to stop at a bunch of small museums along the way…giving me an opportunity to see more of the material culture out here before I leave and giving us the chance to do a little public outreach. Scott and Ellen have contacts at a number of these museums, so they’ve let them know that three conservation folks are going to be rolling through in the next couple of weeks. We’ll hopefully get a chance to get some behind-the-scenes tours and answer conservation-related questions that people might have along the way. Ellen and I are going to try to blog from the road…so stay tuned!!

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