Family Day: Food - The turnout for our first Family Day of the semester was fantastic. More than 340 people of all ages came to explore the art, culture, and science of food. We are celebrating food all month, along with Key Ingredients: America by Food, a free exhibit at the UAF Community & Technical College in downtown Fairbanks.

Kids, parents and visitors compared teeth from our mammal collection and learned about local edible plants and mushrooms. Everybody could get a taste of carrots in three different colors from Calypso Farm, as well as find out how tasty water can be when it’s infused with fruits and herbs, thanks to UAF’s Healthy Living Program. Little ones made their own dish out of homemade play dough with the Fairbanks Children’s Museum

Around the gallery of Alaska, families could hunt for food items and use the giant dice to play an animal food game. In our Creativity Lab, kids and parents enjoyed some crafts and learned how plants “eat” too.

The fun continues with food-related activities all month at the museum’s hands-on programs. Visit our website to find out more.

HUNT FOR HISTORYSam Coffman, a research assistant with the UA Museum of the North archaeology department, conducted a backpack archaeological survey of the West Fork of the Toklat River in Denali National Park and Preserve last month. He was accompanied by Washington State University PhD student Jacob Adams, and two geoscientists from the Karl-Franzens Universität Graz in Austria, Nicole Kamp and Michael Haid.

After digging over twenty shovel tests,
a standard technique in archaeological surveys of digging a pit about 50 cm x 50 cm wide and typically a meter deep, they located two new archaeological sites. “We found two new historic sites; one that looks like it was associated with early mining of the park and the other might be connected to building of the Toklat River bridge.”

Coffman says the crew did not find any prehistoric sites. Many of the shovel tests hit permafrost at about 30-40 cm below the surface.

The terrain mostly followed the river’s gravel bar. However, there were portions where the river cut the group off. “We did try to cross the river a couple of times, but it was nearly waste deep. We decided to hike up the river bluffs and go around that way. That was challenging, hiking through the alders and willows with our heavy packs, but we needed to reach an area we really wanted to survey. We also saw a couple of grizzly bears and some caribou.”

Since the survey didn’t turn up any evidence, it’s difficult to say anything about the prehistory of the valley. But if the Toklat River Valley is anything like other areas in Interior Alaska, there is the potential that there for a whole range of Alaska prehistory (sites ranging from 13,000 to 1,000 years old).

"It’s just a matter of locating archaeological sites," Coffman said. "The two historic sites that our project found likely date to the early 20th century. Despite not finding anything, this was the first survey work conducted on the West Fork of the Toklat River, and it gives us ideas of where to test in the future.

"We collected several charcoal samples from some of our shovel test and are hoping they can be identified to species and radiocarbon dated."

That data will provide information about the paleoecology of the area and can hopefully be used to understand the larger context of Alaska’s prehistory.

This project is part of a planned multi-year investigation of the Toklat River drainages. Funding for the 2014 field season was provided by Alaska Geographic. All photos courtesy of Nicole Kamp. UAMN t-shirt at bottom left available in the Museum Store.

AUTUMN IN AK — Just like that, it’s fall in the Interior of Alaska. Classes have resumed at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. School children in the area have returned to their teachers and classrooms. Docent training has begun at the museum. We’ve even had our first frost.

We like this time of year. Soon school children will be filling the galleries, eyes shining as they explore the history, culture, and wildlife of Alaska. Our Family Day programs will begin soon.

And we’ll celebrate the harvest with a special exhibit. The UA Museum of the North is working with the Downtown Association of Fairbanks and the Co-op Market to bring this free exhibit to UAF’s Community and Technical College this fall.

Key Ingredients: America by Food was produced by the Smithsonian Institutions as part of the Museum on Main Street initiative. It is touring the state thanks to a grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum. We’re asking you to share your own harvest stories, recipes, photos, and more. Visit our website to find out how to get involved.

NEW INSECT SPECIMEN — Curator of Insects Derek Sikes says this summer has brought an exciting addition to the collection, a rare beetle found only in Interior Alaska.

This tiny (less than 2 millimeters long), blind, and flightless beetle lives in the soil below the leaf litter among the roots of plants. It’s a species and genus that is known only from Fairbanks, Nenana, and Chatanika and is thus an Alaskan endemic. That means, as far as anyone knows, it is not found anywhere else in the world.

The beetle was first described in 1986 under the name Chionotyphlus alaskensis and is presumed to be a tertiary relict. That means it has survived due to the lack of glaciers in much of Alaska during the Pleistocene Era.

"I’ve known about this species since I arrived here in 2006," Sikes says, "but despite various efforts, hadn’t found it until I got lucky this year."

The image above (bottom) shows an illustration of the beetle from the original publication by Ales Smetana. You can also see how a researcher goes about extracting the beetles from the soil (top photo) by first washing the dirt and leaves in water and letting all the organic matter float to the top. This organic stuff is then put into a Berlese funnel (middle photo) with a light bulb heating the matter to drive the small organisms into a collection bag below.

You can learn more about the museum’s insect collection on our webpage. You’ll find links to our online database, too.

Voices from Above - Visitors to the UA Museum of the North were recently treated to an a cappella performance by a group from the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival at UAF. The singers spread out along the museum’s grand staircase in front of the Alaska Range Viewing Window and gave a stellar performance that seemed to come from the heavens.

Sanctity of Space — The photographs of Bradford Washburn have inspired many, from mountaineers and art lovers to historians and geologists. His thousands of striking black-and-white photos of mostly Alaskan peaks are both an artistic legacy and the reference standard for choosing climbing routes, allowing many to follow in his footsteps.

Freddie Wilkinson is one of them. After looking at a series of Washburn’s photos of the Ruth Gorge, he was inspired to attempt the first traverse of the Moose’s Tooth massif. He shared his idea with good friend and climbing partner Renan Ozturk and after several years of attempts, they completed the traverse in 2012.

"Along the way, we got more and more serious about documenting the landscape and our adventures," Wilkinson said. "Gradually a creative partnership emerged. Renan is a talented cinematographer and I’m a writer by trade."

During the successful climbing attempt in 2012 - and on a whim - the partners arranged for a helicopter to film their attempt using a state-of-the-art stabilized camera system. The odds of being able to capture a first ascent as it happens in the wilderness are long, but on day four of the climb, the pair found themselves on the summit of Bear Tooth peak at 8am, perfectly positioned for filming.

"And then — right as the helicopter approached — a cloud blew over and hid the summit," Wilkinson said. "We could hear the helicopter but weren’t sure if they could see us."

They finished the climb, and then returned to Talkeetna, where the footage from that aerial flight was waiting. “We were blown away — the cloud was in fact the perfect backdrop for revealing our tiny silhouettes against the landscape. The image bore a striking resemblance to Washburn’s most famous photograph After the Storm: Climbers on the Doldenhorn.

"It was one of those unscripted moments of beauty in the mountains that are impossible to plan for or predict, and when you watch the footage, you can truly feel Washburn’s presence. It’s eerie."

After that breakthrough moment, Wilkinson and Ozturk felt a responsibility to make a film that does justice to Washburn’s pioneering legacy in the mountains of Alaska. Their project The Sanctity of Space will be a “multi-generational homage to the spirit of exploration that has been behind a hundred years of adventure in the Alaska Range.”

As professional climbers, the filmmakers are keenly aware that mountain adventure is too often portrayed as a life and death struggle, with a dash of controversy and ego thrown into the mix. “For us, this project is a chance to share with audiences the simple intrinsic beauty of the mountains of Alaska, and perhaps capture a piece of the spirit of exploration that Washburn embodied, a spirit that touches on something more noble and universal in our collective identity,” Wilkinson said.

Last month, the film crew visited the UA Museum of the North to document artifacts from the Bradford Washburn collection (bottom photo by Kirsten Olson). The museum preserves and protects about 200 priceless historical artifacts from the famed photographer and climber.

Wilkinson said the Museum of the North serves a vital function in connecting 21st century adventurers with the past. “Being able to physically examine and show the equipment that was used to explore and document the Denali region is a tangible reminder of how far we’ve come, and how much our climbing fore-fathers accomplished.”

Since 2012, the team has collected almost 50 hours of aerial cinematography in Denali National Park. They are currently fundraising with the hopes of moving the project into post-production with a release goal of 2015. You can learn more about the project on their Facebook page or follow their Instagram feed.

Top Photo: Mountain climbers in the Kichatna Spires, located in the remote SW corner of Denali National Park, still from The Sanctity of Space project, courtesy Freddie Wilkinson.

The museum is magic!

The museum is magic!

ARCHITECTURAL DREAMING - A recent high school graduate from Minnesota wrote to us this summer, wondering if we would be interested in photos of a model of the museum that she completed in 4th grade.

Olivia Urbanski grew up in Eden Prairie, Minnesota (a suburb of the Twin Cities area) and is now headed to Chicago to study at Loyola University. She remembers researching the building’s design and even meeting with the architect, Joan Sorano who is based in Minnesota. “A year later, I got to see the actual building as my family traveled to Alaska.”

We wanted to find out more about this delightful project. You can see her finished piece (top) and compare it to the architect’s model (middle) and a recent photo of the museum (bottom).

1) How did you hear about the museum? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I was in 4th grade when my class began an architecture unit. We were studying all sorts of types and styles of architecture. Each student had to choose a building to replicate, and I wanted one that people had never even heard of.

In 2006, the museum had its grand opening, so I may have seen an image of it while looking on architecture sites online. Also, a local museum here in MN had Joan Soranno, the building’s architect, come and speak about the museum, so that definitely encouraged me. I was inspired that she was a female architect!

2) You mention visited Alaska. What was it like to learn about the architectural challenge of creating this building and then seeing it in person? When I chose this building, I had no idea how difficult it would be. It took me a ton of time and practice working with the materials to get an accurate representation of the museum’s characteristic curves. There were many different parts of the structure that were also difficult to fit together once completed individually. When I arrived at the museum, I was stunned by how huge it actually was. I had become so accustomed to working my play-house sized version that I almost forgot there was one for real people!

I definitely felt a special connection with the building. What surprised me most was the inside. While I had spent much time thinking about the outside of the building, I had never really put much thought into what was actually inside. I thought that the floor plan of the museum was wonderful and I enjoyed walking through the halls, seeing the structure from a different perspective.

3) How did the museum compare to the natural architecture of the mountains, rivers, and landscape of Alaska? I love Alaska. The nature there is so beautiful in its complex, yet simple, way. The museum’s exterior reminds me of an assortment of things. First, a whale, many of which I saw in Alaska. I think the building is an intriguing way to show respect for the animals in the surrounding environment. Second, the brilliant white color of the building, along with its odd contours, resembles glaciers. This makes the building seem to almost camouflage itself with its surrounding environment. I find the building to ebb and flow like nature.

4) Are you interested in pursuing architecture? I definitely went through a phase of wanting to become an architect and I still love looking at buildings and even designing my own! However, my interests have shifted and I’m focusing more on environmental issues and global awareness. I plan to major in Environmental Studies and International Relations while at Loyola University.

5) Are you coming back to Fairbanks?  I would love to come back to Fairbanks and see the town once again. When I was there I was only 9 years old, so I think it would be very interesting to see the town and museum from an older/adult perspective.

6) What do you think we should do next with the building? In regards to the next phase for the museum, I think this would be a great opportunity for the building to become more environmentally friendly, whether that be through the use of wind or solar energy, or rain water accumulation/rain gardens, etc… I am not sure of how much the museum is already doing with environmental practices, but I didn’t see a link on the museum’s website, so I thought I’d mention it!

Thanks to Olivia for sharing her thoughts and experiences with us. We hope she comes back soon.

The Sheldon Car - One of the museum’s most unique artifacts has just been cloned! An auto enthusiast named Don Langley, an American ex-pat living in Australia, recently completed a replica of the Sheldon Car, the first car in Alaska. Skagway resident Robert Sheldon completed it in 1905 without ever actually seeing one in person. He based the design on magazine illustrations.

Langley contacted Senior Collections Manager Angela Linn last year to ask permission to pursue his project. He sent an email requesting exact measurements, which were supplied by Willie Vinton of the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, where the Sheldon Car is currently on display.

Langley decided it would be impossible to achieve an exact reproduction, so he decided to adopt Sheldon’s principle of using whatever was available. “The chassis and the engine compartment presented no problems,” he said. “I made those components as close as possible to the dimensions given to me.”

He adapted the rest of the car through a series of trial and error, from the 13 horsepower engine taken from a riding lawn mower to the seat he upholstered himself to the suspension springs he designed and commissioned a local blacksmith to make. “They work extremely well and create a lot of interest,” Langley said. “I also had to design and make the components and brackets to fit that type of spring to the chassis.”

Sheldon built his original version using materials available in the Southeast Alaska gold rush town where he lived, including a two-cycle marine engine, wheels from a buggy and two carbide mining lamps as headlights.

In 1934, University of Alaska president Charles Bunnell brought the car to Fairbanks from Juneau, where it had been in storage for almost a decade. The car was incorporated into the UA Museum of the North’s collection and later exhibited in the Gallery of Alaska.

“For us, the Sheldon car is a part of the history of Southeast Alaska, and it helped us tell that story for more than 30 years,” said Linn. “At the Antique Auto Museum, people get to see the car in a whole new light – as part of automotive history.”

Langley calculates that he spent about $4,000 Australian (approximately $3,700 US). “The project took me eight months and I have to pay tribute to my wife for her forbearance.” He named the car after her, calling it the Sheldon Isabella.

The couple recently drove the car in a local parade and it performed perfectly. Langley said the Bobby Sheldon story, which was displayed beside the car, also attracted considerable interest and comment.

Photos, from top: A side view of the Sheldon Isabella, constructed by Don Langley; basic chassis with seat in position; trimming wheels to the precise diameter; the Sheldon Car, on display in the museum’s Gallery of Alaska; historical photo depicting the first automobile in Alaska.

FROM THE FIELD TO THE LAB - A new generation of entomologists took to the fields, forests, and ponds around campus last week. They learned about Alaska’s insects and their relatives at the UAF Summer Sessions Bug Camp, presented by UAMN Insect Curator Derek Sikes and his wife Melissa. Also assisting with the instruction were UAF MS student Logan Mullen and 8th grader Megan Booysen.

Campers tried their hand at collecting insects ranging from butterflies and dragonflies to bees, mosquitoes and spiders.They collected larvae and pupae, adults and juveniles.

Some of the kids were so excited by their discoveries, they kept collecting at home. A couple planned to donate their finds to the museum. Sikes says their donations add to the overall knowledge of Alaska’s insects and their habitats.

"Species differ across their range and differ in sexes," Sikes said. "In order to understand the variation, like where a species occurs and how it changes, we need to have large samples across time and space."

In a recent story in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner about a beetle donated by an eleven-year-old collector, Sikes said the museum’s insect collection will allow scientists in 100 years to see what changes have occurred in Alaska.

Enthusiasts often bring interesting insects to the museum. “Someone brought in some fleas the other day,” said Sikes. “Spiders get dropped off. Ticks, all kinds of things.”

The museum is happy to receive donations. A page on our website spells out the steps an amateur entomologist should take after emailing the curator (dssikes ‘at’ alaska ‘dot’ edu) about the discovery.