In the aftermath of the February rockslide that hit the Tatsuda’s IGA Market building on Stedman Street, several pieces of local art were recovered — and one piece has been loaned to the Tongass Historical Museum.
On March 6, the Tongass Historical Museum opened its special exhibit “Into the Wind: Aviation as Southeast Alaska’s Lifeline.”
The exhibit features photos, documents and objects that tell the story of aviation in Ketchikan and its surrounding areas.
During a Thursday morning interview, Hayley Chambers, senior curator of collections with the Tongass Historical Museum, said that when Katherine Tatsuda posted a picture of a recovered art piece on her social media, Chambers knew it would be great for the collection.
The piece is a metal panel painted by Evon Zerbetz, who created the “Slice of Life: Essential Ketchikan” series for the store after being commissioned by Bill and Katherine Tatsuda.
A 2016 Daily News article about the 100th anniversary celebration reported that the series also included depictions of eagles, ravens, dragonflies, mosquitoes and bears.
In the article, it was estimated that the series added over 100 feet of new art to the building.
One part of a pair of panels depicts a cherry-red floatplane. The panel illustrates the back half of the plane, which Chambers noted is detailed with a custom identification number, “T1916,” to honor the Tatsuda family business, which got its start in 1916.
After the Feb. 27 rockslide, the panel was found among the rubble in the store. It formerly hung from the wall above the orange juice selection, which Tatsuda described as being close to the meat department.
Tatsuda said this area was the “main impact zone” of the rockslide.
“We didn’t expect to be able to salvage any of the art pieces along that wall, and one of my team members who was working in the store to help clear out products and salvage our inventory and stuff, he actually found that piece buried beneath a lot of rubble and things, and he pulled it out,” Tatsuda said.
Tatsuda said it was “pretty special to have found it.”
She shared the discovery on social media, which is how the Tongass Historical Museum learned about the story.
“Actually, quite a few of us on staff (at the museum) have been paying attention to the Tatsuda’s Facebook page, and they shared photos … and that morning I sent a text to Ryan (Curator of Exhibits Ryan McHale) of the crushed shelving and it was like, ‘Oh man, we need to see if we can borrow this for the exhibit,’” Chambers said.
Katherina Tatsuda said that Senior Curator of Programs Marni Rickelmann reached out via social media to inquire about accepting the panel as a loan.
“I just immediately said yes because what a special piece to find and then to have it fit so perfectly with something that the museum is doing and offering to the entire community,” Tatsuda said.
After Tatsuda agreed to loan the piece for the exhibit, Tongass Historical Museum staff picked up the panel and prepared it for placement in the exhibit.
“It happened very fast, which loans don’t always work out that quickly,” Chambers said about the process, adding that she believed the panel was loaned in mid-March.
The panel now hangs in the “Into the Wind” exhibit at the museum, which is currently closed at the direction of a state mandate issued late last month in response to the coronavirus.
The special exhibit will be open through mid-January, Chambers noted.
Reflecting on the exhibit, Chambers explained that loans are a good way to supplement a museum’s existing collection.
“We take in loans for specific purposes, mainly to compliment an exhibit,” Chambers said. “We let the collection drive the story that we want to tell in an exhibit, and loans help us fill in gaps.”
Chambers said that when the museum accepts a loan, the item is in many ways treated as part of the general collection — although staff rarely cleans the item.
Chambers noted that not cleaning the Tatsuda’s art panel was “kind of an important thing to point out with this panel,” which did not sustain structural damage, but was affected by debris from the impact.
Chambers noted that there is mud splatter on the piece, as well as glass that became embedded in the panel.
“And all of that, it just speaks to the force of the rockslide and that immediate damage. And to clean that kind of stuff off would really take away that part of the story,” she said.
Chambers said that the way that the rockslide impacted the panel was a big part of the meaning of the piece — and its place in the exhibit.
“Sometimes that damage is its story, and with the panel, the damage that’s on the panel, it really is very much a story,” she said, adding that to clean the damage would be to “diminish” the story’s power.
Tatsuda noted that all other artwork that hung in the store was able to be salvaged from the building, with the exception of the floatplane panel’s twin, which depicts the front portion of the plane.
“We can see it, we just can’t remove it because we think that it’s holding a lot of the pressure back from the rockslide,” Tatsuda explained.
The art that was removed from the building is currently located at Tatsuda’s IGA Market space in The Plaza.