Unangan c. 1880. Sea lion gut, human hair, caribou hair, yarn Anchorage Museum Collection, 1986.031.001 Overall Dimensions (on mannequin): 142.2 x 71.1 x 48.3 cm (56 x 28 x 19 in.)
Aleut, Alutiiq and Eskimo women all used sea mammal gut to make a variety of products, including waterproof parkas and bags. Gut is very light, flexible when wet, and waterproof. Gut parkas were used as windbreakers in the frequent winds of coastal Alaska, and shaman sometimes used them during their ceremonies. This particular garment is not a parka but a copy of a Euro-American naval officers cloak, which Aleut women would have seen worn by officers and merchants aboard the naval and trading vessels that voyaged to the Aleutians. By the third decade of the 19th century Aleut women were making embroidery and bird feather decorated capes for Aleut men. The capes were sometimes worn with gut caps that were based on European designs, and were worn as prestigious garments.
This particular cape was acquired by a Maine sea captain, Obediah Merrill. Merrill deposited the cape at the Pejebscot Museum in Maine in 1889. It is known that he voyaged to the Pacific Ocean, and his collection included Hawaiian Island material as well as objects from the Northwest Coast. The cape was formerly decorated with dark bird feathers (no longer present). The fine embroidery, for which Aleut women were well known, still exists, as does the human hair that hangs down from the seams to which it has been sewn.
Bonhams & Butterfields
Mid-19th century. Spruce root, pigment, dentalium shells, glass beads, cotton and woolen cloth, sea lion whiskers, hair, rawhide.
Western Prince William Sound or Kodiak Island region
Joint accession with the Alutiiq Museum, Kodiak, Alaska. This acquisition was made possible with generous support from the Anchorage Museum Foundation, Old Harbor Native Corporation, Koniag Incorporated, Afognak Native Corporation, Ed Rasmuson and Shoonaq’ Tribe of Kodiak.
Dena’ina 1916-1917, Susitna Station. Birch bark, willow root, wood Anchorage Museum 1997.048.001
Birch bark containers were ubiquitous in Dena’ina villages and camps into the early 20th century. They served a variety of purposes, including collection of berries and other plants and stores of food. For cooking, baskets were filled with water and hot rocks.
The newly renovated Alaska exhibition at the Anchorage Museum opens Sept. 15, 2017
The newly renovated Alaska exhibition is organized by themes reflecting essential aspects of life in Alaska, both today and throughout the state’s rich history. These themes reveal the identity of Alaska and its people.
Kevin G. Smith