Packing up 32,000 pieces of Alaska history

Tommy Joseph's exhibit of Tlingit armor is currently on display at the Alaska State Museum. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Tommy Joseph’s exhibit of Tlingit armor is currently on display at the Alaska State Museum. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Curators of the nearly four-decades old Alaska State Museum in Juneau will start dismantling some of the permanent exhibits in preparation for the building’s demolition.

Meanwhile, some of the popular exhibits like the Eagle Tree and Science on a Sphere are expected to return in a new facility that is being constructed on the same site.

Construction is already underway on the artifact vault or storage area for the new State Libraries, Archives, and Museum (SLAM) that is adjacent to the current Alaska State Museum. Once the artifacts are transferred next spring, then work will start on demolishing the current museum and constructing the rest of SLAM.

 

Bob Banghart of the state’s Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums said the Alaska State Museum’s exhibits and artifacts have to be catalogued and packed in a slow and methodical way. He’s in the Minerals and Mining room on the second floor which will be the first to be dismantled. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

Bob Banghart, deputy director of the state Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums, said that they’ll start on October 7th with the first run through of cataloging items and packing the current museum’s permanent exhibits for an eventual move to the new structure.

It’s a tremendously large project to do. It’s over 32,000 objects that have to be accounted for in the relocation and we don’t want any mistakes. So, it has to be done really articulately.”

The Minerals and Mining exhibit on the second floor will be done first so museums officials can gauge the time and effort necessary for the cataloging and safe packing of artifacts. Banghart said they’ll then work on the rest of the floor’s adjacent permanent exhibits through the end of the year.


It’s not like you grab a box and just start dumping stuff in it. Everything has a very, very prescribed methodology in order for us to do our job. It’s not fast.”

Alaska State Museum staff will get some help in the form of a $78,000 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services. That will pay for 27 professionals from museums around the state to simultaneously receive training and help with the packing and transfer of artifacts.

The second floor will eventually be sealed off to the public on New Year’s Day and the first floor will be closed on February 28th. Then, all of the materials will be transferred to the new vault. That will include welding together Conex containers which will link the basement of the museum to the bottom of the new vault while providing a controlled environment for the safe transfer of artifacts.

View of the Eagle Tree inside the Alaska State Museum. Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO News

It’ll be another two years before the new museum opens its doors to the public.

Banghart said at least two panels from the side of the current museum with Northwest Coast Native formline design will — hopefully — be removed intact and reconstructed as a sculpture or monument on new museum grounds. The green sculpture Nimbus will be restored and returned to the museum grounds as well.

Science on a Sphere and the Eagle Tree, centerpiece of the current museum, will also be resurrected in the new museum building.

We were told — pretty much — that we could plan on leaving town if we did not put the Eagle Tree in the new building.”

Banghart said they’ve hired a local knowledge expert who will help with an accurate construction of a brand new tree with salvaged sticks and eagles. The current tree will be too small for the new space.

Some of the temporary exhibits currently on display at the Alaska State Museum include the recovered Apollo 11 moon rocks, Tommy Joseph’s exhibit of Tlingit armor, and Kay Field Parker’s Ravenstail weaving exhibit.

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