Sitka museum gains new curator

Posted: Friday, March 11, 2011

SITKA — The new curator at the Sitka Historical Society Museum got her first look at Sitka three years ago, when she traveled through the Inside Passage on the ferry.


“It was one of the most beautiful places I stopped at,” said Jackie Fernandez, who started work here in early February after a drive across country in her truck and another trip on the Alaska Marine Highway.

She remembers her stop in Sitka three years ago included a tour of the Sheldon Jackson Museum, the Sitka National Historical Park, a day of halibut fishing and a sushi dinner.

Apart from the bear warnings that kept her out of Starrigavan campground, the trip made a good impression on her.

“It was short but very pleasant,” Fernandez said.

It was positive enough for her to sign a 12-month contract as curator at the Sitka museum, but she hopes her time in Sitka will last much longer than that.

“I’m really thrilled to be here,” she said. “I would definitely like to be here for the long term with the Sitka Historical Society and Sitka.”

Originally from Boston, Fernandez started high school in the suburbs before the family moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to spend a year closer to her father’s family. When her family moved back to the U.S., she finished up high school in Manchester, Vt.

Fernandez attended Trinity College in Washington, D.C., for a year, then transferred to Mt. Holyoke College where she earned a degree in 2005 in international relations with a certificate in African Studies. She earned her master’s degree in 2008 in museum education from Tufts University.

During her college years, she started her museum career through a summer job at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Besides having an outstanding collection in a beautiful Venetian-style building, she said, it has the dubious credit as the scene of the biggest art heist in American history.

After that summer, Fernandez was offered the chance to continue working there on a part time basis. So every Friday, she would drive down two and a half hours from her college in the Berkshires, stay with her twin sister in Boston, study on Saturdays and work on Sundays, before returning to college.

She said she became friends with the assistant curator, and liked working with the education staff and docents.

“At graduation, I realized I didn’t want to stop working in the museum field,” Fernandez said.

During her time in Boston, she worked at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, before getting a chance to work at the Boston African American National Historical Site, where she gave tours at the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School on Beacon Hill. She said Massachusetts became the first state to abolish slavery, and Boston was home to a successful free black population.

Her internship during her master’s degree work was for the Massachusetts Historical Society, the oldest historical society in the country. The society is actually the presidential library for John Adams and the collection includes Thomas Jefferson’s papers and other papers related to the founding of the U.S., Fernandez said.

Fernandez was brought to Alaska through the Alaska State Museum Summer Internship program, which gave her a chance to spend the summer of 2008 in Anchorage working for the Alaska Museum of Natural History. She ended her summer with her trip through the Inside Passage.

When she was driving back across the country, she received a call in Chicago that pulled her back to Alaska to work for a short time at the Natural History Foundation and Live Raptor Center in Haines.

Although she has worked at higher profile museums in the U.S., she has also spent time as a volunteer and contract staff for nonprofit historical societies in Hingham and Beverly, Mass. She said she has enjoyed her time with such groups.

“I like the history, I like the idea of being the caretaker of these objects that are meaningful in terms of history of local people and place, and helping preserve that history,” she said. “I like learning about those stories and helping people learn about them. If the articles aren’t preserved, it makes it more difficult to tell that story.”

Fernandez said her time so far in Sitka has not allowed her to get fully acquainted with the Sitka Historical Society collection, but she said she is eager to do that.

“I’m overjoyed to work for this historical society and to be in Sitka,” she said.

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