Bering's bust proves a hit in Sitka

Posted: Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The presentation of a bust of Danish explorer Vitus Bering, the man responsible for various landmarks bearing his name, was a success in Sitka.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

Now, the bust rests in Juneau at the Alaska State Museum.

"It's a phenomenal thing when you start to look at it," said Robert Banghart, the chief curator for the Alaska State Museum. "It gives us a very strong link to the Russian scientific community, they're sharing this image with us and that they thought of us ... I am quite honored."

Russian Doctor Viktor Zviagin, who reconstructed the skeletal remains of Bering to form what is now recognized as the true face of Bering, recently presented the bust of Bering to the state of Alaska at a special luncheon in Sitka hosted by St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral. The event served as part of the 100th birthday of Sitka's National Historic Park and the 2010 International Conference on Russian America.

Lt. Governor Craig Campbell accepted the bust on behalf of Alaska.

"The deep Russian tradition in Alaska continues today with exchanges between the Russian government and the government of Alaska," Campbell said. "We are a multicultural society here and Russia has been a big part of that for 200 years."

Allen Engstrom, Zviagin's interpreter, said Zviagin concluded his speeches by saying he was happy Bering could return to the land he discovered in 1741 and he hoped now he would remain here forever.

Russian Orthodox priest Sergious Gerken presided over the festivities, said Sitka National Historic Park lead planner Dusty Kidd, one of the co-organizers.

International scholars from the United States, Sweden, Russia, France, Finland, Denmark, Canada and the Aland Islands attended the event, as well as Russian-influenced artists.

"That everybody managed to get here and have a week-long series of activities and have a chance to do those activities with no major hiccups was a great satisfaction for me and the other organizers," Kidd said. "When we originally talked about this conference more than a year ago, the expectation was that perhaps we would have 20 to 25 papers submitted and maybe 50 people. We had 72 papers and 130 people."

Juneau's Dee Longenbaugh, Steve Hendrickson, Glen Cook, Allen and Elton Engstrom participated as well.

The Vitus Bering bust was featured as part of Juneau's September First Friday art exhibits, and is displayed just inside the front entrance to the museum.

"It is an attracting piece," Banghart said. "Attractive and attracting, we have had many visitors interested in it."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at

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