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By DANELLE LANDIS
Daily News Staff Writer
The Tongass Historical Museum is winding up one exhibit and ramping up for a new one in the next couple of months.
The current exhibit, “Collected Memory: The Michael Nore Archive” will only be available for viewing until Jan. 5, Curator of Exhibits Steven Villano said in a Dec. 7 tour of the exhibit with the Daily News.
“It’s a very special exhibit,” Villano said.
Michael Nore who was born in Wrangell and lives in Anacortes, Washington “still considers Ketchikan and southern Southeast his home,” Villano said.
Nore is a serious collector of Alaska photos, and lent three photo albums of historical Ketchikan photos to the museum for the exhibit.
Behind glass cases in the museum’s Focus gallery, three dark, chunky photo albums lie for viewing. Photos selected from the albums that were enlarged, printed and framed hang on the gallery walls.
“It’s really like being inside these scrapbooks,” Villano said of the installation.
The photos depict people fishing and logging, and also the town’s buildings and scenery from the time period of about 1890 to 1920.
“They’re just scrapbooks, they’re just snapshots of people’s lives, like Instagram from the turn of the century,” Villano said.
One photo album was created by a U.S. Coast Guardsman who was mapping the channel floor, Villano said. Another was created by a miner working in the area, and the third, by a fisherman.
“We thought it was a powerful exhibit for a couple of reasons,” Villano said. “One, is it’s a glimpse into the daily life in Ketchikan in a formative period. Second, it was of historic importance, but more than that, what it highlights to me, is the value of what we have that we might personally value, but we might not think it’s historically important. These were just someone’s snapshots.”
Villano explained that he’s pretty sure that there are a lot of people with boxes of old photos and memorabilia sitting around that they think aren’t very important, but that if those were taken out and displayed, “I think it takes on a whole different character.”
“I think this is an amazing exhibit,” Villano said. “This is leaving us, and I think it’s great for everyone to see it.”
One big change the museum staff is making this year, is bumping up the opening time for the new exhibit in the Focus gallery. Traditionally, Villano said, the museum has unveiled the exhibits in that space at the end of April each year. This year, the new exhibit will open March 1.
Villano explained the change.
“I think there’s the wrongful impression that we open up for the tourist season,” he said, “but we don’t. It’s just when the deadline is to open.”
He said one advantage to scheduling the new exhibit, “Solving Problems, Telling Stories: Handcraft in a Harsh Environment” earlier is that locals will have more time to enjoy the exhibit before the summer crowds arrive.
The upcoming exhibit will be about “exploring the value of our hands,” Villano said.
The theme of that exhibit was born of a two-day community forum held a couple of years ago. When the four groups separately came up with the same idea, Villano said he was impressed with the singularity of the community mindset.
“Everybody — almost everybody — mentioned hands,” Villano said. “Loggers’ hands, fisherman hands, artist hands. We’re a town that does things with our hands.”
He said that idea, in addition to a few more that came up in the forum, were incorporated into the permanent exhibit that opened in April at the museum.
Villano said museum staff plans to start exploring concepts from the permanent exhibit to create bigger, special exhibits each year in the Focus gallery.
The “Solving Problems, Telling Stories” exhibit will explore the deeper stories behind the work done by people’s hands.
“It will be exploring the value of our hands, as well as how our hands influence our sense of attachment to the land and identity and why we’re so focused on hands,” Villano said.
Villano said the museum is seeking video material from the community.
“We’d like community members to film someone they care about making something with their hands, that might be important to them,” he said.
He listed cooking, costume-making, steaming a canoe, pottery, net-making, quilting, fly tying and hat-making among the many projects that would make interesting video clips for the upcoming show.
The creation of the objects, rather than simply the objects themselves, is the focus for the show, Villano emphasized.
“Objects have a value and a power,” Villano said, adding, “but really from a museum standpoint, the object is pointing to the person who made it and what that meant about them, and that’s the story that makes the room come alive — so it’s not just a caseful of objects.”
The permanent exhibit at the museum also was created with that belief about objects.
“It has the energy of how we use them and how they’re made,” adding that, “making something by hand changes your relationship to your material and to time.”
Community members are encouraged to send their videos to Tara Taro at firstname.lastname@example.org. To submit objects for the exhibit, contact Villano at email@example.com.
The Tongass Historical Museum, at 629 Dock St., is open in the winter from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.