Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum reopens with new exhibits
A year after the brandnew Richard Foster Building opened its doors, housing the City of Nome’s Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, the Kegoayah Kozga Library and Kawerak’s Katirvik Cultural Center, the museum invited the public to its second grand reopening last weekend to showcase the second phase of installed long term exhibits in the main gallery.
During a formal museum reopening celebration on Friday, Nov. 10, Mayor of Nome Richard Beneville welcomed the crowd, followed by speakers Tyler Rhodes, COO with NSEDC, Roy Agloinga of the Rasmuson Foundation, Cussy Kauer representing members of the Carrie M. McLain family, Formations’ Fred Paris and museum director Dr. Amy Phillips-Chan.
The Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, CMMMM for short, used to be housed in the basement of a city building on Front Street. Former longtime museum director Laura Samuelson and city officials have advocated for a new building to house both the library and the museum away from the flood-prone Front Street property. A few years ago, when the Alaska Legislature was still flush with money, the project was approved and received nearly $17 million from state funds to construct the new building, which would be later called the Richard Foster Building.
It’s been a long time coming, but last weekend, phase two of the dream of a new space for Nome’s historic artifacts with adequate temperature controlled and museum-appropriate conditions, has come true.
The museum spans 3,200 square feet of main gallery space, where the long-term exhibits are housed. There is additional space for a special exhibit area, which currently features artist Ron Senungetuk: Carving a Path of Cultural Continuity.
A multipurpose meeting room adjacent to the museum is dedicated to the late Richard Foster, Nome’s former Representative in the Alaska State Legislature. The Richard Foster Room features a display honoring the life of Richard Foster. His sister Iris Magnell was present during the dedication and read a tribute to Foster that portrayed him as a hard working miner at the family’s Hannum Creek gold claim, a hard working legislator, as well as highlighting his sense of humor and ability to gather friends and have a good time. May it be at Hannum Creek, where fellow miners were attracted to gatherings at the Foster’s to Friday nights gatherings at Foster’s legislative chambers, Magnell stated it was fitting that once again, people gather at “Foster’s” (the Foster room) in the Nome building.
For the past year, Museum Director Phillips-Chan balanced her new role as mother of a young infant son and finishing the task of having moved to the new site prior to the 2016 grand opening, as well as having orchestrated the new exhibits and finally installing the last phase of the museum exhibit. “All of the content development and writing was done in house,” she said. The latest phase took a year to complete, with the supplies for the installation arriving on a barge in form of two 40-ft. containers in October with installations by the contractor Formations, a company that also designed, produced and made all props, cases, mounts, cutouts and mural-size prints. They were busy for six weeks to install the new exhibits. The last piece for the exhibit, a piece of artwork loaned from a gallery in Fairbanks for the Ron Senungetuk special exhibit arrived last Thursday.
The longterm exhibits at the museum, explained director Phillips-Chan, are categorized in five themes. The first theme is Natural Landscapes, providing the context for the natural surroundings of Nome. A new exhibit is a bird display featuring an interactive wheel that shows different bird habitats in the region. Another new exhibit is a topo map of the region, including both sides of the Bering Strait region. Two iPads installed at the map display show videos of cultural activities.
The second theme is called Tent City, showing Nome during the Gold Rush when it was a tent city with both miners and Native people populating the golden beaches of Nome. Showing the gold history, a new exhibit is an interactive rocker box as well as a reconstruction of a control room in gold dredges. Pulling a lever starts a video program with local gold miners and historians such as John Handeland and mayor Beneville.
Also a new display shows a 25-ft. prop of a skin boat, made of a metal frame and reindeer skins. In consultation with King Island Elders, Chan said, the museum opted for a replica made out of modern materials to assure stability. King Island artifacts and photographs complete this display.
The third theme centered on Building a Town. It focuses on the rise of Nome as a first class city through historic displays of different building styles, two period storefronts, a photography studio and a newspaper office, featuring The Nome Nugget and newspapers that no longer exist. Another exhibit features an old organ that had been the Catholic church’s organ, but then came in the possession of Herb Engstrom who brought it out to the Engstrom Mining camp past Banner Creek, where it was played on social occasions. Ron Engstrom donated the organ to the museum.
The fourth theme is taking Nome’s history into the wartime and is called Staying Connected. It centers on modes of transportation (airplanes and dog teams) and means of communication. There is an aviation display as well as a bigger-than-life display of Leonard Seppala and his dog team, telling the story of the 1925 Serum Run, including the famous display of Seppala’s dog Fritz.
In theme 5, Nome Today and Tomorrow, the youth had a say. A display features a collage of water color paintings of youth and their visions of what makes Nome special to them. Another display is centered on the culture of fishing in Nome and features a fishing boat and films of local subsistence and commercial fishermen and women.
Finally, a last new exhibit revolves around food and community. It features the interior of a Nome cabin. Wilfred Anowlic contributed photos of local subsistence foods. There is a recipe box where visitors can take home local recipes like Blueberry Delight. The cabin also features the artwork of Kivetoruk Moses, a prolific artist born at Cape Espenberg in 1902. An airplane accident left him disabled, but he poured his energy into his art and died in Nome in 1982. His watercolor and color pencil drawings are featured in the new exhibit.
The museum exhibits are astounding as the presentation manages to use modern tools to tell a 117-year story of a town on the edge of the world. The combination of high technology through films, iPads and other interactive tools is well used, but not overdone, and by the use of locals who are featured in the movies and local producers, the voice of telling that story couldn’t be more authentic.
According to Phillips-Chan, the project total for both Phase I and Phase II of the museum exhibit was $1,029,143 and was included as part of the overall grant for the Richard Foster Building project. “Other similar-sized exhibits often run $3 million plus and the museum and Formations worked closely throughout both phases to develop a diverse and engaging exhibit while staying within our budget,” noted Phillips-Chan.