At the Pratt Museum, we spent this past Saturday and Sunday photographing collection pieces from the Sugpiaq Catalog. Thanks to the generous support of Museums Alaska, we were able to contract with Daryl Kreun, Port Graham photographer, to work with us for two days on this project. While there are still unphotographed items in the collection, we were able to document 201 pieces at this time.
Collections Manager Savanna Bradley and I pulled several pieces from the storage units of the Cultural Collections in preparation for this event. As we had limited space to work with, we simultaneously pulled and re-shelved items as we completed the work.
We also set up a light table for Daryl to work on while documenting the pieces, then discussed various ideas regarding the best approach to each item. Because we were documenting not merely for scholarly review and use in museum projects but also for use in origin communities, we focused on producing photos that allow viewers to see details from multiple vantage points.
Depending on the material and condition of an item, they can be stored in either cabinets or on shelves. Some pieces, such as iron, requires a specific microclimate, while others, as for instance stone, does well in a general storage area. All items are marked with a specific accession number when accepted to the collection and subsequently placed in the appropriate cabinet and unit.
As we have over 3,200 pieces on the Sugpiaq Catalog list including archaeological findings, contemporary art, photographs, digital media, audiotapes, and ethnographic pieces, we selected items based on their condition, whether or not they have previously been photographed, and the connections they may have to other collections in origin communities.
This recently donated metal Russian Orthodox Cross originates from Yukon Island. It was featured in a recent Homer News article and examined by community representatives during the workshop. It was also described as a burial cross at the University of Alaska Fairbanks by Dr. Katherine Arndt (PM 2014-009-0001). The cross does have quite a bit of corrosion, but also appears to be fairly recent. While there was a re-burial of repatriated human remains on Yukon Island, Ephim Moonin, who is a sub-deacon at the Sts Sergius and Herman of Valaam Russian Orthodox Church in Nanwalek and participated in the reburial service, described the cross used to mark the grave as red and made of wood. The recently found and donated cross is made from copper.
This decorative button from a priest’s or bishop’s vestment (PM 1998-039-0001) is also from Yukon Island. Both of these items are interesting to note, as I have not (yet) found any documentation of Russian Orthodox Church activities on Yukon Island. Please let me know if you know otherwise.
Described in the catalog as a baidarka cord with ivory carvings (PM 1976-156-0137), this item was identified by Ephim Moonin and Herman Moonin during the workshop, as well as by John Kavsnikoff during his visit to the Museum, as having been made of dried kelp and not sinew.
One of the most fascinating collection pieces is the bone carving (PM 1993-163-0665) below. Its function and purpose has eluded most of us who handled it in the past, until Daryl turned it around and realized it was a small, elaborate carving of an animal’s head. To us, it looked like a moose. What do you think?
This is a better photo of the previously posted item (PM 1993-163-0663) that was identified by Perry Eaton as a “little plug to patch a hole in a gut raincoat or kayak skirt. You place the plug in the hole and tie the edges with sinew into the grove.”
A photo showing the size differences of all notched net-sinker stones from Nanwalek. These all were donated by Nick Tanape, Sr.
A whale vertebra carved out as a bowl from Yukon Island (PM 1998-039-0360). John Kvasnikoff remembered that her family also used to own a similar whale bone piece while growing up.
Alma Moonin described beads similar to this one from Yukon Island (PM 1998-039-0012) as “squirrel eyes.” She used to hear her mother, Juanita Melsheimer, refer to these red and white beads as such.
The final photo I selected to share today is a personal favorite of mine. These minuscule beads are also from Yukon Island (PM 1998-039-0058 and PM 1998-039-0059) and I simply cannot imagine how people were able to work with them. Perhaps they used very thin sinew or hair? I do not think I have seen thin enough bone needles that would have fit through these. The scale below is in cm to give you an idea on their size (1 cm = 0.4 inches).