Solstice is approaching. For many Alaskans, with the near constant daylight, comes a beckoning to be outside. We are driven to plant, hike, harvest, build, renovate, play and relax. The memory of winter drives us to embrace each moment of summer.
At the UA Museum of the North, examples of the seasonal shift are evident. Guests no longer come in puffy parkas and face masks. Flowers and berry bushes grow on the grounds. Wild roses bloom around the totem poles and other outdoor exhibits. Guests can also find images of all seasons inside the museum.
Representations of summer time can be seen in a variety of ways. Arctic hares and ptarmigans are on display, showing both their winter pelts and plumage of white and in their more subdued browns of summer. Paintings, such as “Spring Green” by Kes Woodward, illustrate the dominance of bright green in the landscape. Ansel Adams photographs on display in the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery show the Teklanika River and Wonder Lake ice free and with the shadows of summer, when the sun is high in the sky.
“The Place Where You Go To Listen” reflects summer through the colors and sounds in the room. The sound and light environment created by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams is ever-changing and gives voice to the rhythms of daylight and darkness in addition to moon phases, seismic vibrations, and activity of the aurora. By June, the “day choir” becomes dominant. Within “The Place,” warm red and purple hues of winter have been replaced by bright yellows and blues. “The Place Where You Go To Listen” is named for Naalagiagvik, a place from Iñupiaq stories where a woman would sit quietly to hear voices of nature.
As Alaskans, our connection to the outdoors is reflected in art and in material culture. Tools for outside work and hobbies date back thousands of years. Fishing lures, berry pickers, and baskets made of a variety of natural materials show the kinds of summer activities people have done for many generations. Much of the traditional and modern beadwork in the museum depicts the blooms of summer. A moosehide dress created by Gwich’in Athabascan artists Rita Pitka and Dixie Alexander features pink fireweed blooms and blue forget-me-nots.
At the museum, summer also means field work for many staff members. The collections at the University of Alaska Museum of the North represent thousands of years of cultural traditions and millions of years of biological evolution and diversity. Scientists have spent decades collecting and studying these artifacts and specimens. During this time of year, researchers travel across the state occurs to document and collect specimens of the biology and prehistory of the north. Museum guests can get a taste of this research by visiting the “Expedition Alaska” exhibit to learn more about mammalogy and archaeology work of museum scientists. They can also watch the movie “Expedition Alaska: Dinosaurs” to virtually travel along with museum paleontologists as they search for dinosaurs along the rivers and mountains of Alaska.
Field work is a core part of museums’ research activities and has a long history. Olaus Murie, a renowned biologist began his work in the north working on behalf of another museum. A portrait of Olaus and his wife Margaret, painted by Rusty Heurlin is on exhibit at the museum. Olaus was a wildlife biologist who early in his career conducted scientific expeditions in Canada funded by the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh. Olaus collected bird and mammal specimens and documented and photographed the region. He went on to work for the U.S. Biological Service in Alaska, beginning in 1920. His assignment was to document caribou herds and collect mammal and bird specimens along the way. He went on to record much of the natural history of the state. In 1924, Olaus married Margaret Thomas. Margaret was the first woman to graduate from the University of Alaska and became a wilderness advocate. The work and writings of the two contributed to the modern conservation movement. 60 plant, mammal, and bird specimens collected by Olaus Murie and 65 plant specimens collected by Margaret Murie are part of the museum’s research collections.
Summer time brings tourists to Alaska to experience our midnight sun and take in the landscapes. It finds locals outdoors recharging vitamin D levels from sunshine and taking advantage of an abundance of natural resources. We plant, harvest, and collect with the thought of winter months in the back of our mind. We collect scientific specimens to prepare, document, and enter data when field work gives way to lab and office work. We gather spruce tips, rose petals, and fiddleheads to enjoy the tastes of summer before fall arrives.
Perhaps it is the inability to forget winter that makes summer so sweet. It drives us to eagerly embrace the long days of the season.
Jennifer Arseneau is the education and public programs manager for the UA Museum of the North. She can be reached at 474-6948.