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There Are Stories Here: Heritage Library Museum
By Gail Hollinger Page 1 of 2   Next ยป

It's just a small thing, maybe four inches high and broken at that, but it's imbued with mystery and power all the same. I'm looking at one of the finest pieces in the collection of the Heritage Library Museum, an object sometimes referred to as an Okvik Figure, referring to the time, about 100 BC, and place, Northern Alaska, where it was made.

I often tell young people who come for a visit, that I can hear an object speak. For instance, looking at a Inupiat sealskin ball I see small pieces of sealskin, carefully pieced and sewn, some dyed red with alder bark and others appliquéd with pencil-mark thin strips of fur around the edges. As I look I see a woman putting all her skin-sewing skills to work to make a rather everyday object, an object that will be thrown and caught and dropped and hit – and it speaks to me love; love for the person who would be playing with the ball, love for a life that valued play as much as work and love for a skill and talent that transforms an everyday object into something dazzle the eye and delight the senses.

Our Okvik Figure speaks too, but in a softer voice, muted by the centuries – some 200 – that have passed since its creation. One has to listen a little more attentively in this case. By focusing the ears of my imagination, I hear it speak of ceremonies, the deeply etched lines on its body telling stories of healing rituals or hunting magic. I notice how she was made without arms (which would grasp and hold) and hear tales of how it aided humans and animals shifting from this world to the spirit world and back again. Were the feet broken by accident or is this story of spirits that cannot be tied to earthly realms because there are no feet to walk on? And sometimes I hear the laughter of children playing with a doll, lovingly made by a master carver.


Okvik Figure

One of the things I love most about this collection is that it is free. You can stop by for a long visit, maybe even do a little sketching. Or your can just visit for five or ten minutes and get to know two or three pieces in the collection. People often do stop in, just to see a favorite painting, carving or artifact, like you would stop in to visit a cherished friend. We hope you will stop by too; listen to the stories, make some new friends.

The Heritage Library Museum
About The Heritage Library Museum

The Heritage Library Museum is one of Anchorage's hidden treasures. The museum and reference library, established in 1968 by Elmer Rasmuson of National Bank of Alaska, houses one of the largest privately owned public displays of Alaska's history and Native cultures in the world. When National Bank of Alaska was purchased by Wells Fargo in 2001, they added the Heritage Library Museum to its Historical Services Department which includes eight other Wells Fargo museums around the country. The museum's displays of artifacts, paintings and the library of books on Alaska subjects provide an opportunity for visitors to share in the state's unique culture and history.

The Artifact Collection

The museum's collection of Native Alaska artifacts includes a wide range of traditional and contemporary pieces from Alaska's diverse Native cultures. Notable are an especially fine basket collection and an extensive collection of contemporary ivory carvings.

The Painting Collection

The museum's art collection features Alaskan artists and has an outstanding collection of paintings by Sydney Laurence, Alaska's best known and loved artist. Other artists represented in the collection include Eustace Ziegler, Fred Machetanz and Ted Lambert.

Reference Library

The 2,600 volume reference library contains books on Alaska covering topics dealing with Alaska history, Native culture and art, geology, exploration, biography and literature. The library also has a complete run of The Alaska Magazine on its shelves. There is also a small archive of historic photographs.

Hours and Location

The Heritage Library Museum is located in the Wells Fargo building at 301 West Northern Lights Blvd, at the corner of Northern Lights and C streets. The museum is completely handicapped accessible. Hours are 12 noon to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. There is no entry fee and parking is free in the bank's customer parking lot.

For more information, call 265-2834.

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About the Author: Gail Hollinger is the Curator at the Heritage Library Museum.
Next page:   Heritage Library Museum School Tour Programs Pages:  1 2 

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