Tongass Historical Museum gate

An iron gate by sculpture artist Rhonda Green is a new addition to the entryway at Tongass Historical Museum on May 7. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

The recently installed gate and matching handrails outside the Tongass Historical Museum on Dock Street not only add a splash of color and local artistry to the building, but represent Ketchikan’s past and present.

The gate and handrails were constructed by local metal artist Rhonda Green, who has about 10 years of experience creating metalwork art projects in the community. Her work (as well as the work completed with local artist Anne Fitzgerald) is on display at the Ketchikan Public Library, Community Connections and the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

Tongass Historical Museum Director Anita Maxwell recently wrote to the Daily News that the gate that formerly stood in front of the museum’s main doors was rusting, and museum staff had noticed unwanted trash and waste at the doors “on a sadly regular basis.”

“Rather than just put up an institutional looking gate and railings, we saw this as a great opportunity to highlight Ketchikan’s history and heritage on the outside of the building,” Maxwell wrote.

The call to artists was announced in September via the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council, and was open to any professional artist working in Southern Southeast.

“This artwork should be an extension of the many stories held in trust in our collection and showcased in our exhibitions,” according to the original call for art submitted by the museum.

The call to artists outlined possible works, which included an art piece that hangs from the roof or attached to the building, railings, gates or a sign over the entrance.

Green pitched a concept of a gate and matching railings, and in October was selected by an appointed panel to bring the project to life. The panel included Robert Sivertsen, Anita Maxwell, Amanda Robinson, Markel Wallace, Marilyn Lee and Matt Hamilton.

“The work will not only enhance the visitor experience of the Tongass Historical Museum, it will increase the safety of visitors with a more secure handrail system on the bridge into the museum, and full gates to close off the entryway when the museum is closed,” read an October letter from KAAHC Executive Director Kathleen Light to city officials.

The project was given a budget of $18,000, and was officially finished in late March.

During a recent interview with the Daily News, Green explained how she became aware of the project.

“I get a Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council newsletter,” said Green. “And I'm constantly checking those because they put calls for artists, so I applied for the call to artists, and they (the museum staff) had a meeting for anyone who had applied, and basically you go over what they’re looking for and that type of information.”

That meeting was held late last year.

“They said they were looking for something that represents the community both past and present,” Green recalled. “And so I sat down and thought about that for a few days, trying to come up with different ideas.”

“I just started thinking about that and came up with a couple different proposals,” she continued. “And I thought, ‘Well, it would be kind of cool if there was a nice gate.’ So that was in one of my proposals as well.”

In all, Green proposed a gate, handrails and a few different sign designs. The museum commissioned the gate and handrails.

Sidetracked by a delayed steel shipment from Seattle, Green started on the project in November. It was completed in March.

“It was a long process,” said Green. “Measurements had to be exact.”

Green also worked with engineers from the City of Ketchikan to make the project happen.

“We had initially designed it to swing outward, but we were able to make it swing inward as long as the gates were open during business hours and a plaque was posted,” Green noted.

Now completed and installed, the gate features scenes from some of Ketchikan’s historically important industries, such as mining, timber and fishing.

"And so each panel represented one of those, and I had something from the past and something from the present on each one, to represent the old and the new,” Green explained.

“I really enjoy what I do,” Green said. “When (people) look at my artwork, I like for them to look for hidden things in there, because sometimes I throw in some stuff that you might not notice the first time around, and might go back the next time and see something totally different.”

Green said that she was happy to have had the chance to design the gate.

“It gave me the freedom to just come up with the design on my own,” she said. “So I really enjoy that type of work, when I really just get to do what’s in my head. And just be able to create freely.”