Commemorative statehood bench unveiled at airport

Alaska cookbook sales helped pay for Tlingit artist's commission

Posted: Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The smell of freshly cut cedar wafted through Juneau International Airport on Monday night as a bench commemorating Alaska's 50th year of statehood was unveiled.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

The bench, carved by local Tlingit artist Doug Chilton, is a two-seater made of yellow cedar. The front side of the bench back, Chilton carved the words "Alaska 1959 2009" above reliefs of the two traditional Tlingit moieties, an Eagle and a Raven.

Airport Manager Jeannie Johnson accepted the bench on the city's behalf.

"I was a young girl when I marched in statehood, and little did I ever imagine that I would be here on such a special night to share the dedication of this bench and to accept it," Johnson said to the 40-plus audience. "We're very honored and just pleased to have it here. It's absolutely beautiful, and I think part of the beauty of it are the stories that have been told here tonight, and I will always think of those stories and this ceremony."

Juneau Tlingit Dancers started the ceremony with song and were followed later by the governor's rural advisor John Moller and Capital City Celebrations Committee chair Kathy Hildre. Speakers Mike Tagaban, an Eagle, and John Martin, a Raven, brought balance to the ceremony.

"Whenever one speaks, we have the opposite speak to keep balance," Chilton explained. "So with a neutral piece like this, that was one of the reasons I chose an Eagle and a Raven for the bench."

Set in each carved birds' beak is a commemorative statehood medallion. A beaver, a clan of the Raven moiety to which Chilton belongs, is carved into the left arm of the bench. A killer whale of the Eagle moiety is on the right arm.

"I was honored they chose me to be the artist that put it together, to have my name attached to a piece that will be there for a while," Chilton said.

The idea came from Capital City Celebrations Committee member Myrna Allen, who used the proceeds from her recipe book "50 Years of Facts 'n' Food" published in August to fund half of the commission.

"I wanted to give something permanent to the city of Juneau, something to commemorate the 50 years of statehood," Allen said. "It just was a special year and a special time for us to reach that 50-year mark for us as a state."

She hopes the bench will still be around during Alaska's 100th anniversary of statehood.

"It's kind of an exciting thing to see something that will always mark (our anniversary), it'll outlive us," Allen said. "It's neat to have so many people be interested in the facts, and it allows me to do something for the city of Juneau."

A new addition to the airport that is underway will house the bench.

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