Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Back to school with the Alaska State Library, Archives, and Museum

It's back-to-school time here in Alaska! The State Library, Archives, and Museum support education and teachers with some unique resources and opportunities. Here are some ways that we can help make this your best year ever!

We help students succeed by providing resources and educational support for all Alaskans. Here are a few of our favorites:
  • Live Homework Help: Can't afford a tutor? Get free help from the experts at every day from noon to 2 am Alaska time.
  • Test Prep: The Testing & Education Reference Center provides practice tests and resources for students getting ready for the SAT, ACT, AP exams, GED, graduate school tests, or vocational exams.
  • Articles and Databases: The Alaska State Library provides access to research resources to all Alaskans. Find full articles, encyclopedias, news, and language resources for writing reports or just for fun.
The Library, Archives, and Museum also supports Alaska's teachers. Although the Archives and Museum are currently closed to the public, we still provide opportunities to bring historical and cultural activities into the classroom.
  • Hands-on Loan Program: Alaskan teachers, students, libraries, and museums can borrow objects from the Alaska State Museum's Hands-on Loan Program, managed by the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka. This collection, which is separate from the Museum's permanent collection, includes hundreds of objects from Alaska Native cultures and natural history specimens, including animal hides, baleen, rocks and minerals, and plant samples.
    This Eskimo yo-yo is one of hundreds of objects available to check out. Trying to get the balls rotating in opposite directions is a favorite activity with museum visitors of all ages. Photo courtesy Alaska State Museum.
  • Historic photographs: The Alaska State Library Historical Collections is a primary contributor to Alaska's Digital Archives, a photo database that includes thousands of historic Alaskan photographs from major research institutions around the state.
    Juneau's first school in Log Cabin Church, 1885. Alaska State Library - Historical Collections, PCA 01-2208.
  • Alaska history modules: The Museum and Historical Collections have created Alaska history modules on several topics, including Eight Stars of Gold: The Story of Alaska's Flag, Quilts of Alaska, and Alaska's Gold.
    The Alaska's Gold module uses primary source materials to tell the story of Alaska's golden history.
  • Art activities: Artists and museum staff develop kids' activities and instructional videos to correspond with their exhibits. A selection of these is available on the Museum's Teacher's Resources page, including hats and headdresses, a birchbark canoe, and Alaskan action figures.
    An Alaskan action figure with two dogs and sled, made from pipe cleaners and tongue depressors. Photo courtesy Alaska State Museum.
In addition to the resources above, we'll have great programs for teachers and students when we open the new Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum in next spring, including school tour opportunities and youth activities. In August 2016, we will be hosting First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, on tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library, and will work with teachers to arrange class visits.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

View from the Future: Spotlight on Alaska's Centennial Libraries and Museums

As part of the remediation plan for the Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum, the Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums published The View from the Future, 2017: Fifty Years after the Alaska Purchase Centennial, edited by Tricia Brown, now available for purchase from Taku Graphics. In a previous post, we highlighted the section on the Alaska State Museum, our sister institution, and today we look at a few other projects from around the state.

Many communities built libraries and museums for their centennial projects, including Juneau, Ketchikan, Wrangell, Cordova, Petersburg, Kotzebue, Anchorage, Valdez, Homer, Kodiak, Nome, Fairbanks, and Bethel. In this way, the Alaska Purchase Centennial provided the foundation for the preservation and dissemination of Alaska's history around the state.
Kodiak used centennial funds to renovate a historic log building to house the Baranov Museum. Baranov Museum by J. Stephen Conn, CC BY-NC.
Homer citizens built the Pratt Museum, a natural history museum, as their centennial project. Beaked whale by Travis, CC BY-NC.

Nearly fifty years later, these institutions are showing their age, as weather, erosion, and neglect have taken their toll. Some of the centennial facilities proved completely unsustainable. The Kotzebue City Museum closed down in the late 1980s and the artifacts were scattered around to city offices and the traditional council. The museum at Fort Kenay was transferred to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center in 1991. The Yugtarvik Region Museum in Bethel was badly damaged by fire in June 1980. Others struggle to hang on despite major issues. On the coast, roofs of the centennial buildings have been particularly problematic. In Cordova, the ceiling is held together with Visqueen and duct tape, scant protection against wind and rain. At the Tongass Historical Museum in Ketchikan, the flat roof in the wettest place in Alaska soaks up moisture like a sponge, continuing to leak long after it stops raining outside. Former director Michael Naab noted, "It's like a wetland up there...There are actually small bushes and small trees on the roof."

Like the Alaska State Museum, many of the centennial libraries and museums are preparing to move into new, state-of-the-art facilities, or have moved in the past few years. The Seward Library joined forces with the Resurrection Bay Historical Society and moved into the new Seward Community Library & Museum in 2013. Ketchikan Public Library moved out of the Centennial Building in 2013, leaving the museum to renovate and expand into its vacated space. The Cordova Historical Museum and Library will move to the new Cordova Center this year. The Carrie McLain Museum, Nome Public Library, and regional non-profit Kawerak will move into the new Richard Foster Building in 2016. And the Alaska State Museum, Alaska State Library, Historical Collections, and Alaska State Archives will open as the Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum in the spring of 2016.
Artist's rendering of the Kashevaroff SLAM, opening spring 2016.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Learning about Japanese balloon bombs with Ross Coen

In June, historian Ross Coen came to the Alaska State Library to present a lecture on fu-go, Japanese balloon bombs used in a strange and little-known campaign during the end of World War II. The lecture was based on research for Coen's new book, Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan's Balloon Bomb Attack on America, published last year by University of Nebraska Press, and included many historic photographs that were once considered highly classified.

The Japanese hoped that the balloon bombs would start wildfires and terrorize Americans by raining fire from the sky. However, several factors contributed to the overall failure of the campaign. First, due to seasonal winds, the balloons could only survive the trans-Pacific flight during the winter, when Pacific forests were the least susceptible to fires. Second, the U.S. military requested media silence on all stories concerning the balloons, and although the order was not mandatory, most news outlets complied. Thus, although hundreds of the balloons reached North America, the Japanese had no way of knowing if the balloons were surviving the oceanic flight, and eventually the lack of discernible results and resource shortages led to the termination of the campaign.

This balloon, recovered at Alturas, California, on January 10, 1945, was reinflated for testing by the U.S. military. U.S. Army Air Corps (Air Force) photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
We shared Ross' presentation on the Alaska Online With Libraries (OWL) videoconferencing network, and were joined by participants from Craig, Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, Fairbanks, and Haines. If you missed the presentation, you can watch the archived videoconference recording online. Sharing a program like this on OWL was a new endeavor for us, so please excuse the screen sharing difficulties during the first few minutes of the video.

Ross' book is available at many local libraries, including the Alaska State Library, and as an e-book on ListenAlaska.

Read more:

Friday, July 24, 2015

Making mannequins for the new SLAM exhibits

Although the Alaska State Museum is closed, museum staff are busy preparing for the opening of the Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum. The new galleries will feature updated exhibits and many objects from the Museum's collection that have never been displayed before. If you follow the Museum's Twitter account, @AlaskaStateMuse, you may know that thousands of custom mounts are being crafted for the exhibit installation.

Some of the mounts are mannequins, individually created to display garments from the Museum's collection, from World War II uniforms to children's dresses to fur parkas. A museum mannequin is much more than the generic body form you find in department store displays. The mannequin serves as the main support for the garment, protects it from undue stresses, and is constructed from special materials that do not off-gas chemicals or have dyes that might transfer to a museum object. Making a museum mannequin requires a unique combination of artistic skill and understanding of garment construction and textiles.
These mannequins were originally created for a 1999 exhibit of the First Ladies' inaugural ball gowns. Some of them may be altered to fit different garments so that they can be repurposed for the new exhibits. Careful measurements of each one have been taken and are pinned to the mannequin.

Last week, Museum Services Curator Scott Carrlee brought together a team from around Alaska to learn about this specialized process and to create the majority of the mannequins that will be used in SLAM. In 2013, the Museum received an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) professional development grant that brought museum professionals from around the state to learn about collections care and assist with the move of the Alaska State Museum's collection into the new SLAM vault. This workshop was an extension of that grant, and we welcomed mannequin-makers from Anchorage Museum, Ketchikan Museums, Iñupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel, Ahtna Cultural Center in Copper Center, and Sheldon Museum in Haines. Other participants in the workshop included Alaska State Library staff, the SLAM mount-making team, museum interns, and long-time museum volunteer and seamstress extraordinaire Fran Dameron.
The mannequin team with their creations. Photo by Mary Irvine, Alaska State Museum.

The mannequin-making process consists of three main steps: measuring the garment, sculpting the body, and finishing/tailoring the mannequin. Each garment was carefully measured to ensure that the dimensions of the mannequin would fit the garment's shoulders, waist, and arms. Then the rough body shapes were drawn onto blocks of polyethylene foam, and a human form was sculpted. After the body was carved, the mannequin was ready for its first fitting. Anchorage Museum textile conservator Sarah Owens advised mannequin makers on how to adjust problem areas that could cause pulling, tearing, or other damage over time. When she approved, the mannequin moved on to the finishing stage.
SLAM mount-maker Jeff Thole shows his rough body shape drawn on foam. This eventually became the mannequin for a silk caftan (ASM Collection, 94-39-1) given to Kiks.adi leader Mikhail Kukhan by Adolph Etolin in 1843.
Sculptors work on mannequin carving in SLAM's new carpentry shop. Photo by Mary Irvine.

The sculpting on this mannequin is nearly complete. It will wear a roomy reindeer parka donated by Territorial Governor George Parks, so sculptor Diana Martin of the Iñupiat Heritage Center added a belly to give it some dimension.
Sarah Owens consults with exhibit specialist Aaron Elmore (kneeling) and SLAM mount-maker Tanna Peters (back) on a first fitting of Chief's police uniform (ASM Collection, III-O-416).

The finishing team covered the foam with polyester batting, which is used to stuff quilts. The batting was pulled tight over the foam so it hides any rough spots and provides a nice, cushioned surface for the garment. Then the entire thing was covered with stockinette, a stretchy cotton material used in the medical profession for bandages. The stockinette protects the garment from snagging on the batting and makes the mannequin look smooth and clean. Sheldon Museum director and expert mannequin-maker Helen Alten described the foam as the skeleton and musculature of the mannequin, the batting as the fat, and the stockinette as the skin.
The team working on various stages of finishing. The mannequins in the foreground are getting batting and stockinette coverings, and in the background, mannequin-makers are sewing on arms and Velcro patches. Photo by Mary Irvine.
Anchorage Stealers t-shirt (Alaska State Museum Collection, ASM 97-20-1) mannequin, undressed and dressed. This mannequin has soft arms that just give a little body to the sleeves of the t-shirt.
This small mannequin has its arms sticking out because the child's parka that it will display has little extra room in the shoulders. The arms are attached with Velcro so that the garment can be put on and taken off safely and easily.
This is the reindeer parka (ASM Collection, II-A-4816) mentioned above. The mannequin needs a head form to support the hood and then it will be complete. On the right is a photo of George Parks wearing the parka circa 1914 (Alaska State Library Historical Collections PCA240-604).
This fitted jacket and cap proved a challenge for the mannequin-makers but is exhibit-ready in this photo. This Japanese uniform (ASM Collection, III-O-175 and III-O-174) was collected after the Battle of Attu in 1943.

These completed mannequins, wearing garments including a squirrel parka, World War II raincoat, child's caribou parka, and beaded Tlingit tunic, are waiting to be professionally photographed. The images will be used in the exhibit labels in the new museum.
A parade of finished and nearly finished mannequins. They are as diverse in shape as the people who wore the garments. The ones in black bags are ready to be transported to storage until they are ready to be installed in the new exhibit.

During the week, the mannequin team created body forms for 35 garments from the Museum's collection. Those mannequins and more will be on display when the Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum opens next year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

How many people visited Alaska last year?

Tourism is a big industry in Alaska. How big, you ask? According to the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development Division of Economic Development's report, Economic Impact of Alaska's Visitor Industry, 2013-14 Update, more than 1.93 million people visited Alaska between October 2013 and September 2014.

The United States Census estimate for Alaska's 2014 population is 736,732. More than 2.5 times that many people visited the state during the reporting period. That's a lot of tourists!

Cruise ship docked in Skagway. Photo by Jasperdo, some rights reserved.