Museum staff steering umiaq to be included in beach display

Umiaq? Umiaq?? Who has an umiaq?
Finding an umiaq, a traditional walrus skin boat, led conversation at the June 15 Museum and Library Commission meeting.

Amy Phillips-Chan, director of Carrie McLain Memorial Museum, wanted to include the boat in the 2017 museum program in a beach scene, she said, and wanted to sound out the commission on the proposal.

Such a display would show the importance of skin boats to Bering Strait families for hunting, summer travel and temporary shelter, and show a number of Bering Strait Native objects related to summer travel and camping on the beach, Phillips-Chan suggested. A display would include a description of ways of construction and materials preparation—driftwood, walrus skins and lashings, all providing an immersive environment for visitors to touch, see, listen and learn.

The museum planned to work with local elders to select appropriate objects for the skin boat display, according to Phillips-Chan.

Northern peoples have made and used the large open skin boats for hundreds of years along the coasts from Greenland to Siberia. They make them by stretching sea mammal skins around wooden frames and usually propel them by paddles for hunting transportation as well as to carry people and goods.  The boat is still a part of life in Yupik and Inupiat whaling villages of Alaska.

The group discussed moving one of two skin boats on display at Anvil Square to the museum. Howard and Mary Knodel donated the two skin boats to the museum, but because there was not enough space in the little museum on Front Street, the boats found a home in Anvil Square where they continue to deteriorate.

The museum could also purchase a skin boat or seek a donation. The craft would have to undergo preservation, be covered by a synthetic material or have the frame exposed, based on consultation with the community.

Rather than relocate a skin boat from the park, “we could expand the collection, add to the collection,” Commissioner Sue Steinacher commented, “and build ties with the community.”
He had participated in building an umiaq in college at University of Alaska Fairbanks for public display, Commissioner Charlie Lean said, that “ had shattered and catastrophically fallen apart,” he reported. A museum display boat would need maintenance all the time and be kept moist—not too much or too little, Lean added.

Someone could make an umiaq, Steinacher offered, saying she would consult people of King Island for their opinion and feelings on the question.

When a vote yay or nay came along on moving an umiaq from the Anvil Square Park to the museum, folks were not ready to make a decision. Led by Jake Kenick, who chaired the meeting, the commission decided to table the question pending on more information about preservation and acquisition issues became clearer.

A second discussion centered on a display to honor the Richard Foster Building’s namesake. The Richard Foster multipurpose room has space available on the east wall for a display on the life of the late Rep. Richard Foster who was also an aviator and known as an enthusiastic gold miner. The Foster family has offered to donate photos and artifacts to the museum.

The Richard Foster Room is not included in the current museum exhibit contract with Formations, according to meeting packet notes. The RFB contingency fund has approximately $15,000 that could go to develop and make a Richard Foster display in the Richard Foster Room. The commission has to come to a decision on whether to allocate the $15,000 to the display, whether the display should go on the east side of the Richard Foster Room, get some design proposals and put the proposal before the Nome Common Council for approval.

“We got a grant from Legislature [for the building] to honor Richard Foster, so at the very least we should have a photo,” Lean said. Lean continued with saying the room ought to honor Foster’s commitment to the region and the country,” as well as his family history –“defining Richard as a person—military, mining, legislative service, the big things.”

Kenick could see a center of interest with items branching out from it, like a tribal mask, he said.

Phillips-Chan provided a list of possible photos of Foster—in Viet Nam, at Foster Aviation, in the Alaska House of Representatives, at gold mining and a map of Hannum Creek where he spent much time.

The Museum and Library Commission will keep both the skin boat and the Richard Foster memorial display on their planning table.

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

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