The Wells Fargo Museum in Anchorage has a fantastic collection of artefacts made by the native peoples of Alaska, including the Aleut, Athabascans, Tlingit, Inupiat and Yupik. These groups have a very varied and beautiful material culture, and we are excited to be borrowing a large number of objects made by these people from the Wells Fargo Museum for our special exhibition in the summer and autumn of 2016.
Organising a loan exhibition when the lending museum is on the other side of the world brings its own challenges. Not the least of these is that a lot of historic Alaskan native artefacts are made using animal material covered by CITES laws on the trade in endangered species. This means that many of them have to have special licences to travel to the UK. Arranging these is a complex task for Willow!
The Wells Fargo Museum (which has a wonderful-sounding address on Northern Lights Boulevard, Anchorage) very generously gave us a choice of over 100 artefacts to borrow. But we only have room for about half that number in our show cases, so we had to choose. We only want to bring over the objects we can show and no more, since transporting museum artefacts round the world is risky for them, not to mention complicated and expensive.
The exhibition is being curated at the Polar Museum by the delightful Larry Rockhill, a SPRI Emeritus Associate and expert in Alaskan art:
Using database printouts from Wells Fargo, Larry drew up a shortlist of the objects he wanted to tell the stories in the exhibition. Then we set about checking how many we have room for – the old-fashioned way.
I measured the footprints of all our display cases and shelves, and then taped these out with masking tape on a huge table in the Map Room. Next, using measurements from the Wells Fargo database, I cut out paper footprints of all the objects on the shortlist so we could see how much room they would take up on display. Then Larry and I arranged all the object footprints inside the display case footprints. We didn’t have room for everything, but this process helped us narrow the list down further and work out which objects were most important.
While we were looking in detail at how the objects will fit in the cases, we were also able to work out which ones will need display mounts. I am particularly excited about a group of prehistoric animal and human figures made from ivory, which are thousands of years old. They are all very small and so will need to be displayed thoughtfully to bring out their understated beauty. This is a similar ivory carving recently sold at Sotheby’s – it is 2000 years old and just over 5 inches high.
Now that the object list is finalised, we can go ahead and arrange transport to the UK – with any luck there is still plenty of time to do all the paperwork before next summer…