Alaska Museums Partner to Acquire Rare 19th Century Alutiiq Spruce Root Hunting Hat
December 06, 2004
The Alutiiq Museum and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art jointly purchased a rare 19th-century Alutiiq hat
The Alutiiq Museum and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art jointly purchased a rare 19th-century decorated Alutiiq spruce root hat at the Bonhams and Butterfields Auction in San Francisco on Dec. 6. The hat is lavishly decorated with a painted design of an unknown creature and with dentalium shells, beads, red cloth and sea lion whiskers. It is similar in weave and appearance to a Northwest Coast Indian spruce root hat.
"It is a true honor to bring this piece of Alutiiq heritage back to Alaska," says Sven Haakanson, Jr., Ph.D., executive director of the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak. "It is more than a beautiful object from our past, it is a symbol of an Alutiiq family, a rare and precious piece of our ancestors. We've been working on the return of this hat since 1999. I am humbled by the tremendous support we have received in the long process that led to its purchase and grateful to the Alaska State Museum, which discovered the piece and gave it expert care, and to the organizations that contributed so generously to its purchase."
"We are very excited to bring the Alutiiq hat back to Alaska and to be sharing it with the Alutiiq Museum," says Patricia Wolf, director of the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.
The hat was originally owned by the Kashevaroff family of Juneau, who are descended from the Alutiiq people of Prince William Sound and the Kodiak Island region and the Russian explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries. At one time, the hat was owned by the Rev. Andrew P. Kashevaroff, who was a Russian Orthodox priest in Juneau and the first curator of the Alaska Historical Library and Museum, now the Alaska State Museum.
The hat was made to be worn by a hunter. The painted design may represent a helper spirit who would bring the hunter luck and help attract animals. The beads and dentalium shells are markers of elite status and were valuable trade items at the time the hat was made. Sea lion whiskers decorated bentwood hunting hats as well as spruce root hats and were among the elements used to beautify objects and thus pay tribute the animals and plants that provided for people. There are very few known examples of Alutiiq spruce root hats from the 19th century.
Examples exist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., at the Amerind Foundation in Dragoon, Ariz., at the Western Washington Historical Society in Tacoma, at the National Museum of Finland in Helsinki, and in a few other museums. Most are not as extensively decorated as this example. No other 19th-century woven Alutiiq hunting hats are known to exist in Alaska today, and only one other hat has been known to appear for sale in the last 25 years.
The hat will be exhibited on a regular schedule between the Alutiiq Museum and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art. The two museums joined in the purchase because both believed that it was important to try to have the hat remain in Alaska. An intense fund raising campaign brought generous donations from Koniag, Inc., Old Harbor Native Corporation, Afognak Native Corporation, and Shoonaq' Tribe of Kodiak, the Anchorage Museum Foundation and Ed Rasmuson.
Once the hat arrives in Alaska, it will be carefully examined by a conservator to evaluate its condition. A mount maker will prepare a support to ensure its continued good condition, and a case prepared to exhibit it in both Kodiak and Anchorage.
For more information, contact Sven Haakanson, Jr. at (907) 486-7004, ext. 7, or Patricia Wolf at (907) 343-6174.