Conserving Alutiiq Cultural Heritage
Conservators at Work: Alaska's Historic Kayaks Renewed
Through August 28, 2013
For the first time, Peabody Museum visitors are able to see conservators at work in a specially prepared gallery space.
America's only known Alutiiq warrior kayak is the centerpiece of a new conservation effort. Peabody Museum curators and conservators will be collaborating with Alaska’s Alutiiq Museum and Alfred Naumoff, the last traditionally trained Kodiak Alutiiq kayak maker, in the study and conservation of the collections over the next two years.
In 2003, while visiting the Peabody, tribal members Sven Haakanson of the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository and Ronnie Lind, Alutiiq elder, recognized a watercraft in the rafters of the Peabody Museum as the world's only remaining warrior kayak of their culture. Its bifurcated bow identified it as Alutiiq; human hair detailing and possible bear-skin construction indicated a boat fabricated for a warrior, based on Alutiiq oral history.
“Much of what we know about kayak-making and kayak-centered lifeways is disappearing from living memory,” said David Pilbeam, Howells Director of the Peabody Museum. “It’s very important to conserve and study the kayaks and the Alutiiq collections. We’re excited to share that process with the Alutiiq Museum and the public.”
Conservators work in the gallery and are available to answer questions on Mondays from 12 to 3 PM, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 2 to 5 PM. (New hours begin June 1, 2012; see the sidebar.) "We'll start by taking detailed photographs for documentation," says Conservator T. Rose Holdcraft. "This is an opportunity for visitors to ask about the kayaks, our equipment, tools, techniques, or whatever they're curious about. We'll be in a public interactive space, and people will be able to see and ask questions about our collaborative conservation effort as it happens."
In February 2011, the Peabody and Alutiiq museums received a grant from the Save America’s Treasures Program for over 100 Alutiiq items in the Peabody collections including four kayaks, several model kayaks such as the one shown above, kayaking accessories, skin-constructed collections, and related media. Each item is among the oldest and rarest of its type in existence. The kayaks are not simply rare types of watercraft; they are rare ethnographic treasures from one of the United States' least-known Native peoples. The kayaks and related objects, some over 140 years old, evoke an era of complex ocean-going travel, trade, and warfare among Alaska Native cultures.
“The Alutiiq Museum is honored to collaborate with the Peabody Museum on this project,” said Sven Haakanson, executive director of the Alutiiq Museum. “We look forward to working and sharing what we learn from the Warrior’s kayak. The knowledge we gain from this exchange will not only help the Alutiiq people learn, but allow us to share and maintain a disappearing tradition of kayaking on Kodiak Island.”
This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Save America’s Treasures is a federal grant program made in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, IMLS, and Save America’s Treasures’ private partner, the National Trust for Historic Preservation.