Telling Kodiak’s big— and let’s face it, controversial— history is a challenging task.
It’s been five years of hard work but the research is complete, community feedback has been gathered, and the designs…
When we started creating a plan for new permanent exhibits, we wanted to get lots of input from the Kodiak community and scholars. We sent out surveys, had open houses, and learned what people loved and didn’t like so much about our current exhibits. People love our building, our photograph collection, and more. People did not love that there was no overarching narrative.
As we planned for new exhibits, we sent out surveys and meetings. We learned that people want exhibits about Kodiak’s cultural diversity, natural disasters, the importance of commercial fishing, Kodiak’s unique Russian-American legacy and more. From this, we came up with themes for the new exhibit, including a Russian Colony in an Alutiiq Land, Forces of Change (like the ’64 earthquake, Katmai eruption, World War II), Local Products for International Markets (furs and fisheries), and more. After identifying themes for the new exhibits, we looked towards the museum’s greatest artifact of all: the Russian American Magazin. We considered how we could better use this nationally-significant historic place (and the oldest building in Alaska) to speak to the themes that the Kodiak community helped us to develop.
We decided to take museum visitors on a walk through time in the exhibits, where they will see Kodiak’s history through the eyes of the Magazin. First stop: When it was a Russian-American Company storehouse in which the goods that Alutiiq people were forced to hunt, gather, and process were stored (1808-ca 1867). Second stop: To when it was the site of the murder of the Alaska Commercial Company’s Kodiak manager (1884). Third stop: To when the Erskine family experienced the Katmai eruption in 1912 and turned their home into a community gathering place. Finally: To when the Fields Family operated the Governor’s Mansion Rooming House and experienced the ’64 earthquake and tsunami.
This project is a first step in filling the void and building the visibility of Kodiak’s history, both to local audiences and scholars of Russian America, the Pacific Northwest, and the Pacific world. Staff spent months researching, selecting objects and images, and traveling to archives across the nation to gather Kodiak’s scattered history, the museum shared the exhibit concepts with the community in a series of content-specific presentations. At these presentations, audience members asked questions and shared ideas about ways to make the exhibits better.
One very pressing reason for redesigning the museum’s exhibits is to build exhibit cases that won’t cause harm to our artifacts. Our current exhibit cases are actually meant for retail and do not create optimal conditions for preservation. To help on this front, the museum partnered with some great organizations and professionals. This included the team at Exhibit AK, who helped refine concepts and create construction documents, conservator Tom Fuller who performed conservation treatments on our baskets and other objects, and historic preservation carpenter, Don Corwin, who restored some of our historic furniture.