Museum Collections

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There are many museums around the world that hold historical items and artifacts from the lower Kenai Peninsula region of Alaska. Most of these items were made by the ancestors of Sugpiaq people currently inhabiting the village of Nanwalek. These artifacts came to be added to collections in a variety of ways. Therefore, we know varying amounts of information about them.

For instance, considering the extent of Russian colonialism in Alaska, it is not surprising that one of the most numerous collections of Alaska Native items is currently owned by the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Recently, a selection of these items were organized into an exhibition, and the corresponding catalog, “The Alutiit/Sugpiat: A Catalog of the Collections of the Kunstkamera” was translated into English. However, most of these items were identified as artifacts from other Sugpiaq-Alutiiq areas. A plausible explanation for this conundrum is that most items were collected by local “field” agents or travelers and temporarily deposited in regional hubs, for instances, on Kodiak Island. From the centralized storage they were shipped to Russia with their original location mismarked or forgotten.

The Sugpiaq section of the Jacobsen collection in Berlin has never been explored or documented before outside of the museum’s domain. This website is the first outlet that provides an insight into the holdings of the collection.  

There is also a large collection available at the British Museum, most of which was assembled in the late 1700s by Captains Cook and Vancouver. According to normal business procedures of their times, some of the items they collected on their voyages never made it into a museum collection, but were auctioned off to private collectors. Similarly, Spanish explorers traded and bought a number of items during their visit to the Prince William Sound region, the Outer Coast, and the lower Kenai Peninsula.  

Adolf Etholén, as the Chief Manager of Russian America between 1840 and 1845, collected and subsequently donated a selection of ethnographic material, which is currently housed at the Museum of Cultures in Helsinki, Finland. This collection contains a number of artifacts from Sugpiaq regions.

In the United States, several museums hold items in their collections that were obtained in a variety of ways. Trading, buying, and yes, even robbing, were ways of collecting in the past two hundred years. The major difference between international and American collections is the effects of NAGPRA – the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act enacted in 1990, which provides regulations on the rights of Native American, including Alaska Native, entities to human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony. While it is possible to physically repatriate items from U.S. collections, the law does not apply internationally.

It is important to recognize that collections not always stayed together; rather, museums often traded based on their institutional agendas. For this reason, there are items in collections that might be remarkably difficult to find. Furthermore, items were often mislabeled, miscategorized and misinterpreted due to lack of resources and access to expert knowledge.

How to Use, Navigate, and Comment on the Photos

Each page included under the “Museum Collections” tab lists thumbnails of photographs for each item. Clicking on the first photo will take you to a photo viewer page (black background). You may exit this photo viewer by clicking the small grey X in the left top corner. You will also find additional information on each item within this photo viewer; moreover, you will be able to make comments on each item. Please consider sharing your ideas and reflections.   

List of Known Museum Collections

There is no online database or link to a search engine, but there is a link to the museum’s website.

  • The British Museum – Captains James Cook and George Vancouver Collections, as well as Miscellaneous Holdings

Search the British Museum’s Online Collection Database

Download the Museums Alaska funded Lower Kenai Peninsula Sugpiaq Catalog – Pratt Museum. You can read more about the Lower Kenai Peninsula Sugpiaq Heritage Preservation Project activities, including photographing pieces and the in-museum workshop on the Research Updates page.