Bob Banghart was fresh out of college in 1975 when he assembled the Eagle Tree, what’s come to be the focal point of the Alaska State Museum. Now the Deputy Director of Libraries, Archives and Museums for the state, Banghart is helping to oversee the more-than-two-year task of carting hundreds of years of Alaska history from the current building to the new State Library, Archives and Museum.
The facility, currently being constructed adjacent to the State Museum, will cost $138 million and will double the museum’s exhibition space. But despite the huge scale of the project, the public was adamant the Eagle Tree remain part of it, Banghart said. So adamant, in fact, that “the central core of the new building is completely dictated by the new tree,” he said.
“We said, ‘No question, it will be here, we’ll leave it, we will design the building around it,’” Banghart said. “And just like last time, we’re leaning on the expertise of raptor people to design it.”
Banghart built the tree almost 40 years ago with the guidance of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, right down to the placement of the eagles.
“They’d say, ‘Close, but not right,’” he said. “I would do it again until I got it about right. They drove me; I was just the guy on the ladder.”
Phil Schempf, an eagle expert with the USFWS, will advise the design of the new tree and eagle placement. Unlike the original Eagle Tree, it will not be made out of wood, but fiberglass. Bringing in a real tree is risky — it could expose other artifacts to harmful bug infestations, Banghart said.
The current Eagle Tree, and the rest of the museum, will continue to be available to the public through the end of the year. To prepare for the move, the second floor of the museum will close Jan. 1. The rest of the museum will close in March and will reopen in April 2016 in the new State Library, Archives and Museum.
The new building will be constructed in phases to accommodate the museum’s thousands of artifacts. And all that moving will take a lot of hands. The museum recently received an almost $80,000 grant to bring in 27 museum workers from around the state to help pack, relocate and unpack the State Museum’s treasures over the first eight months of the move.
Bethany Buckingham, curator of the Dorothy Page Museum in Wasilla, and Cheryl Thompson, of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum in Nome, were the “guinea pigs” of the program, the first museum workers to help with the moving project. On Monday, they packed minerals and artifacts from the recently closed Mining Room.
Over the course of the museum’s move, Buckingham will come back to Juneau two more times to help. She said the partnerships “show how museums can work together.”
“I’m excited,” she said. “This is great training for me that I can use at my institution.”
The Wasilla and Nome museums are both planning to move in the near future. State Curator of Museum Services Scott Carrlee said almost all of the 12 participating museums have plans to move to new buildings.
“Some of them, they already have walls up,” he said.
In addition to providing training for Alaska’s museum workers, the grant-funded program helps the State Museum by filling it with knowledgeable workers during a hectic time.
“It really takes a bit of knowledge of how to act around artifacts,” Carrlee said. “They understand how to pick things up and put things down, where to put artifacts and where not to put artifacts.”
The packed artifacts will be stored in the current building until March, when they’ll be carried through a tunnel into the newly constructed vault of the SLAM building. Once the State Museum closes, the team will have only six weeks to move everything, big and small. Eighty-five to 90 percent of the artifacts will fit through the tunnel, Banghart said. The rest will have to be driven. One of the coolest things about the new building is that it offers three times the collection storage space of the current museum, Banghart said.
The new facility will open to the public in April 2016 and will include cafes, performance areas and, of course, the Eagle Tree.
“It’s going to be pretty stylin’,” Banghart said.
Visit museums.alaska.gov/lam/slam.html for a full schedule of closures and construction.
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.