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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kashevaroff SLAM photo tour

Here's a sneak peek at the progress inside the Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum! SLAM staff have been touring the facility over the past few weeks and have photos to share.

Last weekend, artist Robert Murray's controversial sculpture Nimbus was installed on the site. Its distinctive green color really stands out on a gray day, and will be even more vibrant after it gets touched up by the artist and original fabricator this summer.
Nimbus (Alaska State Museum Collection ASM 91-1-1) in front of the Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum, June 26, 2015.

We walked in the main entrance on Whittier Street. The front facade of SLAM will be completed this fall when the boards are removed and copper panels are installed.

Inside the foyer, the eagle tree diorama will be straight ahead. Right now, only the trunk has been installed, but the exhibit will have eagles, a nest, and other specimens from the Alaska State Museum's collection. The white plastic sheeting on the left is where artist Walter Gordinier's large glass artwork, Glacier Pond, will be installed.
Eagle tree exhibit in the foyer.

The museum exhibit spaces are starting to take shape, and you can see where some of the exhibits will be installed, like the Clan House and the kids' Discovery Room.
The umiak that flew over the museum last summer will be exhibited on this gray metal frame. Visitors will be able to walk underneath the frame to see inside. The umiak is so large that this gallery will be constructed around it after it is installed.

The Baldwin locomotive (Alaska State Museum Collection ASM 2008-9-1) is the heaviest object that will be on exhibit. It was wheeled in on rails and has a specially reinforced pad in the floor to support it. It is the first museum object to be installed in the exhibit gallery.
This area will house the Bristol Bay Double Ender, a distinctive wooden fishing boat used in Bristol Bay. There's a mechanism overhead that will support the boat's mast, which will reach the ceiling. Historic video footage will be projected onto a replica sail, fabricated by Ketchikan sail-maker Louis Bartos.
Department of Transportation & Public Facilities Project Engineer Jennifer Pepin describes the Science-On-a- Sphere gallery. Behind her are the windows for SLAM's marquee.

The Library, Archives, and micrographics department will be located on the second floor. Visitors will be able to walk up the stairs around the eagle tree or take an elevator.
Stairway around the eagle tree exhibit. Photo by Amy Carney.
This space will house Central Micrographics Services. Currently housed on the 7th floor of the State Office Building, the micrographics department will have properly ventilated spaces for the work they do with chemicals.

The building was constructed around the tower crane that was recently dismantled. Now, those holes are being filled in. The floor of the second level has been filled and the ceiling will be sealed soon.
Construction workers cutting metal in the future Richard Foster Reading Room, new home of the Alaska State Library.
Work space for library and archives staff. The new work spaces will conform to the State of Alaska's Universal Space Standards.
View from the second floor out the front windows, where we started our tour.

To end the tour, we went down to the basement. Like all our neighbors in the Willoughby District, SLAM is required to provide parking. The garage will be open the same hours as the SLAM facility but the above ground parking will be available for evening events at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center or Centennial Hall.
There will be 63 parking spaces available under SLAM and 32 spaces on the grounds.
Entrance to the parking area and Willoughby Ave side of SLAM.

It's exciting to watch the progress on the SLAM site and to see our future home taking shape. The landscaping and exterior will be completed by early fall and PCL's construction crews will shift their focus toward the interior. We'll keep you updated until we open in spring 2016!

Learn more:

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Connecting to Collections: Beaded tunic in Winter and Pond photographs

Last month, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the grand opening celebration for Sealaska Heritage Institute's new Walter Soboleff Center. The event featured speeches, dance performances, unveiling of monumental artworks, and a traditional ceremony.
The Yees Ku Oo dancers perform in front of the Soboleff Center, May 15, 2015.

During the traditional ceremony, representatives from clans from around southeast Alaska presented clan hats and other at.oow to be displayed in the Nathan Jackson Gallery. Bill Thomas of Haines presented several pieces of regalia, including a beaded tunic. During his speech, he mentioned that the tunic can be seen in some historic photos taken by Winter and Pond.
Bill Thomas speaks about the beaded tunic held by Chuck Smythe of Sealaska Heritage Institute, May 15, 2015.

The Alaska State Library Historical Collections has a large collection of Winter and Pond photographs, which include some of the most iconic images of southeast Alaska from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Partners Lloyd Winter and Percy Pond arrived in Juneau in 1893, and over the next fifty years, took thousands of photographs that documented life in southeast Alaska. Pond died in 1943, and two years later, Winter sold the business to Francis Harrison, who managed the company until it closed down in 1956. The photographs and negatives were transferred to the Alaska State Library Historical Collections in 1981.
Percy Pond (left) and Lloyd Winter in front of the Taku Glacier. Alaska State Library Historical Collections PCA 87-1280

Photographs from this time frequently depicted Native Americans in ways that served to justify colonialist policies that subjugated Native peoples. This is especially true of staged photographs of Native people meant to make them appear primitive or savage. In the Winter and Pond collection, there are a few exoticized studio portraits of Alaska Natives, but there are also many photos taken in Native communities that provide a glimpse of Tlingit life at the turn of the century. In The Tlingit Encounter with Photography, author Sharon Bohn Gmelch notes, "Winter and Pond's photographs are notable for the range of subjects and conditions they show. They did not limit themselves to narrow stereotypes or attempt to create falsely romantic images of the Tlingit by removing traces of modernization or Western culture."

A significant portion of the Winter and Pond collection can be viewed on, Alaska's Digital Archives. I searched the digital collection and found two images that show the tunic, or one that is very similar. Both photographs were probably taken in Klukwan around 1894 or 1895, according to Victoria Wyatt in Images from the Inside Passage. The top photo was taken outside the Frog House. The lower photo was taken in a makeshift tent studio. In both, the tunic is worn by a man on the far right.

Alaska State Library Historical Collections PCA 87-0035.

Alaska State Library Historical Collections PCA 87-0037

The opening of the Soboleff Center was a significant event, in part because the Center is a place where young Native people can feel connected to their history. Hopefully, these 120-year old photographs can contribute to that experience. Seeing these old photos alongside the actual tunic made me think about the tunic's long life and its significance to the people who made, wore, and cared for it. It also made me appreciate the ways that Alaska's cultural and historical institutions work together to help preserve and interpret history.

The tunic is now on display in the Nathan Jackson Gallery at the Walter Soboleff Center, and you can see it for yourself.

Learn more:
  • View the finding aid and read background information about the Winter & Pond Photograph Collection (PCA-87) at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections
  • See Winter & Pond photographs on 
  • Read articles by LAM staff about problems of early photographic depictions of Alaska Natives.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Top 10 reasons to visit the Alaska State Library - Tourist Edition

If Juneau is one of your ports of call this summer, either on a cruise or while traveling independently, the Alaska State Library is a great place to stop. Here are 10 reasons why:

10. We're easy to get to - just a short walk from the downtown core, across the street from the Juneau-Douglas City Museum and the Alaska State Capitol, and on the way to the Governor's Mansion, Gold Creek, and the Evergreen Cemetery.
The entrance to the 8th floor of the State Office Building, at 4th and Main Streets. You can also enter the building from Willoughby Avenue.

9. We're off the beaten path. You won't find long lines or big crowds around here - just a few savvy people who are looking for a unique and restful stop.

8. We can help you get connected. We have free wi-fi and computers available for checking e-mail and social media or surfing the internet.

7. We keep up with the news. Trying to find the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or USA Today? We've got them here.
Most recent issues of Wall Street Journal, available for reading in the library.

6. We have info about your next stop. Going to Ketchikan, Haines, or Sitka tomorrow? We receive newspapers from all over the state and you can find out what's happening in other Alaskan communities.

5. We've got a great view. From inside the library, you can look out at the Governor's Mansion, the Federal Building, and the Willoughby district. From the deck outside the library, you can look down Gastineau Channel toward the docks, across to Douglas Island, and up towards the Mendenhall Valley. You can also see our new building being constructed.

View from the library window. The large building on the left is the Federal Building. On the right is the Governor's Mansion.

View from the deck. The cables from the Mount Roberts Tramway are visible on the left. On the right is Douglas Island.

4. We've got the best seat in the house. If you're here on a Friday at noon, you can come to a free concert played on the Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ. The organ was brought to Juneau in 1928 by theater operator W.D. Gross and was used to accompany the movies at the Coliseum Theatre. In 1970, it was donated to the Alaska State Museum and restored to playable condition.
3. We have some great stuff on display. Come see our 3-D map of Alaska, a mural by acclaimed local artist Rie Munoz, and historic photos from the Alaska State Library Historical Collections. Just outside the library doors, you can take a selfie with a grizzly bear and see the 38-foot Waasgo totem pole.
Map of Alaska in the library.
Waasgo Totem Pole outside the library's front door.

2. We've got some great free souvenirs. Come get an official Alaska state map, pamphlets about the Waasgo totem pole and the Kimball organ, and more.

1. It's your last chance! This is our last summer in the State Office Building. Next spring, the Alaska State Library will move to the new Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum facility at 395 Whittier Street.
Construction of the Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum, May 28, 2015. The Library's Richard Foster reading room will be on the second floor.