Monday, September 30, 2013

Museums Alaska Conference - 2013

Rotary snow plow used on the White Pass & Yukon
Railroad, Klondike Gold Rush National Park
by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

Last week Diane Fleeks from the Fairbanks Community Museum and I drove 700 miles to southeast Alaska, passing through parts of the Yukon Territory and British Columbia to reach Skagway. How odd that one sometimes needs a passport to travel from one part of Alaska to another! 

My goal in Skagway was to visit the archives at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, primarily to see if I could learn more about Robert Sheldon's homemade automobile and the lady he hoped to impress with it. I left with more questions than when I started, but I also came away with some great photos of early cars in Skagway and several interesting transcripts and manuscripts. Many thanks to Karl Gurcke and Judith Munns for all their help.

Historic Fort Seward
From Haines we rode the ferry M/V Taku 14 miles down Lynn Canal to Haines, the site of this year's Alaska Historical Society and Museums Alaska conference. Our old hotel was once the bachelor officers' quarters for Fort Seward--very funky, but the view was amazing! From here it was a short walk to the conference in the Chilkat Cultural Center, a former cannery that was moved to its present location from across the inlet.

The annual AHSMA conference brings together a wonderful mix of museum professions and volunteers from around the state, as well as historians from Alaska and beyond. I was able to attend a workshop on using SketchUp to design exhibit layouts, and several interesting sessions on museum publishing, collections planning, and designing exhibits around a signature artifact. 

A highlight of the week was visiting the Hammer Museum, which I first learned about when it was involved in a David-and-Goliath trademark dispute with the Armand Hammer Museum back in 2007. Founder David Pahl has collected over 1,600 hammers and organized them into a very fun little museum. Don't miss it if you're ever in Haines! Just down the road is the Sheldon Museum & Cultural Center, which does a nice job telling the story of Haines' history and the area's Native people. The Sheldon Museum shared some wonderful early car photos with me, several of which may grace our museum's walls one day.

I only saw a few vintage cars and machines on the trip, including a 1939 Cadillac and the steam-driven contraption at left. But, I made some excellent contacts with other museums, and gained some new documents and photos for our files. The conference was very well organized, and I extend my thanks and appreciation to the host committee, volunteers, and Museums Alaska board and staff.

Skagway and Haines are delightful little towns, although it's a toss-up between which has the most interesting nightlife. We were treated to live performances by the Windy Valley Boys in both towns (a very fun band!), but only Haines had the spectacular Salvation Army fashion show put on by the film crew for the Discovery Channel's "Gold Rush" reality show. It was a sight to behold.

We were treated to some amazing scenery on the 1,400 mile trip, as well as some cool critter sightings. I had to hit the brakes once to avoid hitting a grizzly bear crossing the highway, and we saw more bald eagles than cars on the entire drive. I've lived in Alaska 22 years and never cease to be amazed by her beauty. Come visit if you haven't!

Coming to Fairbanks to see the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum and other area attractions? Support the museum by staying at one of the Fountainhead Hotels. All guests receive half-price admission to the museum!

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