A former Alaska couple has donated a vast collection of artifacts from around the state to the Soldotna Historical Museum.
The gifts from Mary Lou and Charles "Charlie" Ledbetter of Mercer Island, Wash., include Native masks, stamped letters from homesteading days, a Russian tea set from Kodiak and a scale model of a unique boat that served as the primary mode of transportation for seagoing Natives for hundreds of years.
During a presentation Friday, Soldotna Historical Society President Colleen Fassler said the donations came as a surprise to the society, which operates the small museum complex near Centennial Park.
"We were just excited and thrilled," Fassler said.
Some of the most interesting pieces include the Native masks, which the Ledbetters collected during almost a half century of living in Alaska. They include pieces from all across Alaska, from a whalebone mask carved in the northwest Arctic to wooden totem masks carved in Southeast.
Fassler said the museum plans to create a special display for the masks. She said that in the future, the collection might be used in educational programs for children, a priority for the Ledbetters.
"I like Mary Lou's thought about taking them to schools in the area and getting kids involved in the history and telling them about Native people," Fassler said.
The Ledbetters' collection includes an antique tea set from the state's oldest Russian settlement in Kodiak and letters the Ledbetters kept from the early 1950s. The Ledbetters already have given a number of pieces to museums in Anchorage and Homer, and Mary Lou said she thought Soldotna would be a perfect place to give to next.
"I thought the Soldotna museum could use some of these," she said, pointing to a dozen colorful masks.