Anchorage Museum photo identification booth will be at Carlson Center Oct. 17-19
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – The staff of the Anchorage Museum’s Atwood Resource Center/Library and Archives will pack up hundreds of archival photographs of rural Alaska and fly to Fairbanks for the annual Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention on a mission to help preserve the Indigenous history of rural Alaska.
“With 700,000 photographs in the museum’s collection, many under-identified or unidentified, it is virtually impossible for museum staff to identify each of the photos that come to the museum,” says Zane Treesh, Anchorage Museum librarian and reference specialist. “It’s daunting.”
The team came up with a creative and effective plan to reach out to the Alaska Native community to help expand Alaska’s story by identifying selected photographs in the collection. Conveniently, the AFN convention is the largest annual meeting of Indigenous people in the United States.
In 2013, armed with about 400 photographs grouped by region, museum staff set up a booth and staffed it for the duration of the AFN convention. To their delight, attendees stopped by and started looking through the stacks of photos. Soon, more visitors stopped by. Over the years, these sessions have become not only productive, but a pleasure for the participants as they reminisce, share stories and discover relatives, identify places and even see old photos of themselves–sometimes for the first time. To date, more than 1,600 photos have been partially or fully identified.
The Anchorage Museum’s mission is to connect people, expand perspectives and encourage global dialog about the North and its distinct environment. The staff saw this happening right in front of them in 2013, and every year since the successful project’s inception.
“Our values of stewardship and sustainability include preserving and presenting the collections—the images that tell the stories that have been entrusted to us,” says Treesh. “Through this project we are providing access to authentic and distinct evidence that tells the Alaska story.”
As time passes, the generation able to identify the historic people, landscape features, waterways and villages is dying, adding urgency to the project, as the details may be lost forever. “One photo that was recently identified was of four young girls holding buckets of some kind of berries. From the person identifying the photo, we learned one of the buckets held something called ‘squirrel food’ – its proper name is tuntarruaq. That information helps us understand what was available in that region and what was being collected by the Indigenous people,” says Treesh. “This is priceless information and helps complete the story.”
The photo identification project is a collaboration between the museum’s collections staff, and community members across Alaska in the stewardship of shared identity and culture. The project goal is to identify the large number of historic photographs that the museum receives annually for its archives, by reaching out to a variety of community organizations in hopes of cataloging the photos for Alaskans to be able to reference and enjoy.
To the many AFN delegates who have helped to identify the collection, the museum offers to print two photographs of the person’s choosing to thank them for their assistance in enriching Alaska’s extensive history. To date, the museum has sent 824 prints to volunteers.
“What an awesome and worthwhile project to participate in. I was able to identify a number of people from the Arctic Slope villages. Most precious was a photo of my grandmother’s sister Susailaq from Point Hope. I was able to request a copy of her photo to add to our family collection of photos,” said Patsy Aamodt, delegate, Arctic Slope Region, and a sponsor of the project’s most recent award from the American Association for State and Local History.
The AFN Convention will be held at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, October 17-19, with Anchorage Museum staff and volunteers manning the booth for the Community Photo Identification Project during exhibition hours, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 17-18 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 19.
The largest museum in Alaska, the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center tells the true story of the North by connecting people, expanding perspectives and encouraging global dialogue about the North and its distinct environment. Learn more at anchoragemuseum.org