To Preserve Tenakee’s Attic

Tenakee in autumn. Photo by Flickr user sandrasalaskaphotographs, used under Creative Commons license.

I write today from my new residence: a log cabin. The rain is pouring, the heat stove is on, and I have a view of misty mountains and the waters where my neighbors trap crab.

Yes, I made it to Tenakee Springs, Alaska!  As mentioned previously, I have a summer job here helping to establish a new local history museum.

Since I have lived almost my entire life in cities of the East Coast, Tenakee represents quite a change for me.  It is a tiny community, off the road system, on an island where bears outnumber people.  My “commute” is a 15-minute walk down a gravel path, the only street. There is no police force and no garbage collection.  Most households seem to be more or less off-the-grid.  (The cabin where I am staying, for example, gets water from a well and power from a fuel tank out back.)  People here bathe communally in the natural hot springs at the center of town.

Home sweet home!

I will write more about Tenakee and its history  over the course of the summer.  (I’ve been here for less than a week, so I’m still in the process of absorbing it all!)

As for my job, here’s what it is:  

A group of local volunteers have created the Tenakee Historical Collection, an assortment of objects and documents related to the history of the area.  Right now this collection is packed away in cardboard boxes in the attic of a liquor store.  But not for long!  Next year the liquor store is moving, and the Historical Collection is taking over its lease with the intention of using its space for exhibits.

Collection storage.

My task is to help organize the jumbled boxes into a museum collection that will  be preserved for future generations.  To begin, I’m sorting through the boxes and cataloging each object so that the volunteers here will have a record of what exactly the collection holds.  Every object will be numbered and documented in the newly-installed PastPerfect database.  The objects will be rehoused in sturdy archival boxes, protected by acid-free tissue paper to inhibit deterioration.

Along the way I will be conducting workshops for the volunteers so that they can learn more about collections care and continue the work after I leave.   I’m drafting up a collections management policy for the Board of Directors to approve.  And finally, I’ll be offering what help I can with exhibit planning — something that will be much easier once we have a detailed catalog of objects.

Sorting through boxes: first pass.

I helped carry out two similar inventory projects when I was in graduate school — but always as part of a group, with a professor present, and with all the supplies we needed in ample abundance.  So the Tenakee project is putting my museum studies training to the test!

So far the work is going well — though I’m not sure what to do about these ancient tins still filled with Chinese food.


Fortunately I do not need to dine on 100-year-old bamboo shoots tonight — while I was out at work, my neighbor left a crab in my refrigerator!

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1 Comment

Filed under Alaska Museum

One response to “To Preserve Tenakee’s Attic

  1. Alaina Mabaso

    Keep the Alaska updates coming, Kate! Love the photos and I’m so thrilled that you’re getting your hands on a project like this.

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