Nome’s history is in good hands with Cheryl Thompson as new museum director
On Monday, July 24 the Nome Common Council gave its unanimous approval of hiring long-time city employee Cheryl Thompson as the Director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum.
Andrew Lee sitting in the audience, stepped up to the podium and commented, “I’m just really pleased that Cheryl is coming on board as museum director.” The sentiment was echoed by comments from councilmembers Mark Johnson and Scot Henderson.
Thompson’s history with the museum began in the early 2000s when she was working at the Arctic Trading Post. Back then, the museum was located on Front Street, just a few yards from the Trading Post, now the Covenant Church’s Checkpoint youth center. Through her friendship with then-museum director Laura Samuelson, Thompson began helping at the museum, taking a full-time position in 2011.
Long before she arrived in Nome, Thompson held a love for museums. Growing up in Nebraska she has fond memories of visiting University of Nebraska’s State Museum and looking at huge dioramas of elephants and horses.
When she first visited Nome in the 1980s, she was a cook for mineral exploration groups and would come through Nome on her way to different jobs.
“I actually came and visited the museum one time and I remember thinking ‘Oh wow! They have a museum here!’” said Thompson.
During her last job cooking she met her husband Roger Thompson, before returning to Nebraska to tell her friends about the guy she met back in Alaska. In 1984 she moved to Nome, married Roger and planted roots here.
In her early work for the museum, Thompson was essential in cataloguing and archiving museum artifacts. In the early 2000’s during the celebration of Nome’s centennial many people brought in historical artifacts from the early days on Nome. As the collections grew, it became necessary to find a bigger and more flood safe space for the museum to reside.
During 2012, Thompson went to Juneau for a “Museum Bootcamp.” Through a grant received by State Archivist Scott Carrlee, people from small museums traveled to Juneau to learn the best ways to pack and archive a museum. There she learned many skills that helped during the months it took to transfer the collection from the basement of the Front Street building to the Richard Foster Building, where it now resides.
The packing process unearthed many treasures that are displayed in the museum today. Thompson smiled as she told the Nugget the history of a caribou wood carving from Wales discovered long ago by an archeologist who passed through the village.
“Something I really liked about our old small museum is the human-interest stories around our stuff,” said Thompson “I find that’s what people remember.”
Thompson plans on incorporating more stories into the current exhibits.
Thompson’s other “quests” for the museum are to bring out some of the artifacts still in the archives and fill up some space in the exhibits. She also has dreams of doing more events that bring in the community, showing films, having talks and hosting activities like flower pressing.
“I’d like to get people more involved, if they come for an event, they’re more likely to look around at the exhibits,” said Thompson.
The special exhibit gallery will also be utilized to showcase local artists and other community creations.
Thompson’s other roles in Nome include assistant to the City Manager, master gardener and pottery instructor.
“I’m kind of a bloom-where-you’re-planted type person,” said Thompson “and Nome is the kind of town where you can do whatever you like to do…I really like that about Nome.”
When former Museum Director Amy Philipps-Chan left in September 2022, Thompson told herself she’d apply for the position. Months later she did and after interviewing along with two other candidates, she got the job.
Thompson said she wasn’t expecting to take this position because she’s “never been a career person,” however, she’s really excited to take on the job.
Something she’s happy to share is that the museum is free to enter. Previously there was a $7 admission fee which Thompson said turned many local people away.
“I love our collection, and I want to make it so more of the community feels comfortable to come in and look around,” said Thompson.