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Inside the SLAM: Ancient (and ongoing) history; new and improved facility

New museum building to open June 6

Alaska’s got stories to tell. Some of them are in objects like mammoth tusks, wooden fishing boats or a tiny pair of handcuffs and some are located in books or archived as blueprints. On June 6, the new Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives, and Museum Building will open to the public, and those stories will be told together.


“As a division — libraries, archives and museums — we’re moving into a new era where we’re all together and we’re going to be able to work together — not just our own little disciplines in our own little buildings,” said Library, Archives and Museums Director Linda Thibodeau. “Our professions are all really connected to each other.”

The museum might have an object — for example, the 18-ton mining locomotive on display in the exhibit hall. The archives “have blueprints of how the thing was built, and then in the library, we have photographs of that exact locomotive in use in the mines. So together we can be much richer than any of us are individually or singly,” Thibodeau said.

The Alaska Gallery and exhibit spaces are bigger than previously, allowing curators to highlight things they hadn’t previously been able to, and to acquire new objects as well.

With more space, there is “more opportunity … to drive a narrative,” said deputy director Bob Banghart.

“The overriding feature of the exhibits — the theme that runs through the entire thing — is creative adaptability. You’re creating solutions with the materials at hand. That’s what indigenous populations did successfully for thousands and thousands of years,” he said.

Some of the new exhibits include one on the bombing of Angoon and a display on World War II, complete with 37 mm gun and a Japanese flag covered in writing and names. Many soldiers brought those flags, signed by their families and friends, for good luck. There’s a locomotive from the Alaska Gastineau Mining Company, complete with its original sign, which was once buried under layers of paint. There’s a piece of scrapped pipe from the Alaska Pipeline. There’s a wooden Bristol Bay boat, used to fish until motors were allowed.

“We went and looked at what stories we wanted to tell,” Banghart said.

Some of the objects that were displayed in the past are now displayed differently — like the old Fresnel lens at the Cape Spencer Lighthouse. During its years of service, it rotated on a bed of mercury. Now it’s displayed on a pillar, both a piece of history and a work of art.

Traditional art is placed next to contemporary art — for example, a pair of tiny handcuffs entitled “Indian Children’s Bracelets,” made by Tlingit and Unangan artist Nick Galanin, is set near a display of woven baskets.

“That’s just how we wanted to mix it all up. There really is no beginning and there is no ending,” Banghart said.

The new building also includes popular aspects of the previous one. A new and improved Eagle Tree towers over the stairs in the atrium; a 46-seat room for Science on a Sphere (called, in shorthand, SOS); the Discovery Ship, which kids can play on. There will also be a place in the kids’ area where they can paint and then “exhibit” their paintings immediately.

Ninety-eight percent of the museum’s objects are in the archives, Banghart said; in terms of the numbers of objects, probably two to three percent are on display.

No one is allowed to take photos of the exhibit area until the opening on June 6, the better to keep it a surprise.


Outside the exhibit hall

The main atrium features a map of Alaska on the floor. In the future, Banghart hopes each school district can have a student competition to design an emblem for their region. The winning emblem will be cast and placed on that map’s location.

Twilight Café will be operating the café in the main atrium; the SLAM is currently looking for someone to operate the museum store.

Three artists’ work beautify the building. Walter Gordinier constructed “Glacier Pond,” the 15-foot diameter glasswork on display in the atrium, (the steel around it is 22-by-22 feet) as well as colored glass “storybars” inset into glass guardrails above the first floor. (The landings on the second and third floors have exhibit spaces themselves and look out over the atrium.) Martin Shelton created benches out of Pacific yew, and Evon Zerbetz created a 80-by-10 foot art glass and wood panel called “We are Written in the Layers of the Earth” for the library.

The 120-seat, two-screen theatre has fiber-optic cable running to KTOO, enabling live TV broadcasts from the room. Its first event will be the Haida language summit during Celebration.

The division is continuing to put more of its documents and photographs online for those who don’t live in or have easy access to the building, Thibodeau said.

“The goal is to be located statewide,” she said. Exhibits will be posted online and people can also go to Alaska’s digital archives, where the division posts in conjunction with the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, she said.

The new building has allowed physical paper records to be move on-site, as opposed to stored in off-site warehouses.

It’ll better allow them “to keep them safe — to keep them secure for future generations. That’s what we’re all about, is saving things for the future,” Thibodeau said.

The museum’s old building was 24,000 square feet, Banghart said, while the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff building is 120,000, not including the parking garage. Taking into account the library and archives, which are now housed in the same building, the total has probably doubled in size, said Thibodeau.

There’s an underground parking area for visitors and staff; 40 of the 60 spaces are for the general public, Banghart said.

The project should also come in under its $139.5 million budget, Banghart said.


Opening day

The dedication for the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff State Library, Archives and Museum Building is set for 1-4 p.m. on Monday, June 6. If it’s nice out, the dedication will take place outside; if not, it will take place inside. Thibodeau said several people will speak and they’re trying to keep the total speech time to 30 minutes.

The following, Banghart wrote in an email, is “an incomplete list of important people from the early days of the project.”

Bea Shepard is “a longtime volunteer and supporter of the museum and elemental in acquiring the property;” Clark Gruening is a “longtime advisor and advocate that guided the institution through legislative processes;” Bruce Kato is “Former Chief Curator that had the vision for the expansion and worked alongside of Bea and Clark in starting things up;” Former State Rep. Andrea Doll “put forward the first funding bill to acquire the land for the expansion;” and statewide advocates “reinforced the message of the need for the new facility throughout the state from their local perspectives.”

After time allotted for speeches, visitors will be able to walk through the building for the first time, for free.

On normal days, it will cost $12 to get into the museum, or $25 for a year-round pass.

“We’re just really looking forward to being open and welcoming the community and just starting anew and keeping on going for our next 116 years,” Thibodeau said.


Check out the first look at the building in January of this year.



State Archives Library and Museum Trivia from Bob Banghart:

The building has

• 11,740 cubic yards of concrete

• 1,978,000 pounds of rebar

• More than 2,000 individual object mounts

• 74 mannequins made


LAM staff have relocated

• 32,000 artifacts from the museum

• 30,000 cubic feet of documents from archives

• 10,000 cubic feet of collections and 100,000 books from the Historical Library

• 60,000 books from Information Services Library


Total work hours

• More than 500,000 worker hours

• Peak manpower of 111 workers

• 0 “lost time incidents” (accidents that made work stop — Banghart said the worst thing that happened was someone pricking their finger with a wire)

• 91 percent “of the trade worker hours were performed by Alaskan residents.”

• 20 feet, five inches of rain since construction began


• Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Walter Gordinier's ground-floor art piece is called “Glacier Pond," not "Frozen Pond." Also, Gordinier is from Oregon, not Alaska. 


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