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Monday, October 10, 2011

A Visit to the Anchorage Museum

I must say, I had put off visiting the museum here in Anchorage... Honestly, museums sometimes bore me to tears and it seems quite often that if you've seen one, you've seen them all.  I initially decided to plan a visit after I realized that I was desperately under-educated in the culture of Alaska Natives.  When you're a social worker in Alaska, you can't get away with that for too long.  I decided the Anchorage Museum was my best place to turn for information (after realizing that the Alaska Native Heritage Center Museum was closed for the season).

I was pleasantly surprised when I checked out the museum's website, and realized that the entire museum is actually the history of Alaska - even the artwork is either of Alaska or from Alaskan artists.

We first checked out the art and there were a couple paintings I fell in love with - my gauge for great artwork is usually anything that makes me think "oh man, I wish I could paint!" when I look at it.

After checking out the art side, we headed into the history area.  Unfortunately we went through it backwards, although I don't think I missed out on too much.  Anyone else feel like museums should have arrows on the floor like IKEA?  Anyway, there was obviously lots of history about the discovery of oil and the subsequent building of the pipeline.  Here's a model of how massive the pipeline really is:

Alaska was a territory of the US for almost 47 years before it became a state.  The museum also displayed the front page of the Anchorage Daily News announcing Alaska's statehood:

This half cracked me up and half made a bit misty eyed - the battle to be included in this country seems a lot more real when it happened just over 50 years ago, compared to growing up in one of the 13 original colonies.

Finally, we made it to the history and culture of the Alaska Natives (remember how I said we went backwards?).  The museum had some beautifully done dioramas to illustrate typical Native life in a few of the cultures.


Contrary to popular belief, not every Alaska Native is an Eskimo.  Eskimos primarily live in the western half of Alaska, with the Inuit dominating the northern half and the Yup'ik residing in the southern half.  This diorama depicted an Eskimo whaling community.


The Aleut (not surprisingly) inhabit the Aleutian Islands.  Self named 'Unangan,' Russian explorers gave these natives the name 'Aleut.'  While the Aleutian Islands themselves didn't offer as much in the way of resources, the ocean offered everything necessary to sustain life.  Nikolsi, an island in the mid-Aleutians, is actually one of the longest continuously inhabited places on earth, at 4000 years.


Athabascans cover one of the largest land areas in the state, and have villages throughout all of interior Alaska.  The culture of this community focused much more on hunting and gathering, and tribes were somewhat nomadic.

Tlingit & Haida:

The Tlingit and Haida (as well as the Tsimshian) people inhabit Southeast Alaska.  They had a hunter & gatherer culture, but also utilized the resources that the nearby sea had to offer.

As if the museum itself didn't give you enough of Alaska, all you had to do was check out the view from the fourth floor.  Can you see the snow capping the nearby mountains?  Winter's coming!

One thing I really liked about this museum was that it's not overwhelmingly large.  I don't have the longest attention span for museums, and we were easily able to see everything within a couple hours.  I also picked up a great map in the gift shop outlining Native cultures and villages, and I plan to tack it up over my desk tomorrow!  I also found an awesome children's book, but the gift shop was out... It's not available on Amazon so I may have to check back because I have a certain little cousin in mind... or two little cousins!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great day out and that book sounds pretty good, wink wink nudge nudge! :D


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