Historic carvings to be displayed in Kodiak and Anchorage

Historic carvings to be displayed in Kodiak and Anchorage

The Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, Alaska, has partnered with a French museum to display an extensive collection of Alutiiq ceremonial masks collected by a French anthropologist, Alphonse Pinart, in the late 1800’s. The collection will be on view at the Alutiiq Museum from May 24 to Sept. 26, followed by a showing at the Anchorage Museum from mid-October 2008 to early January 2009. The Anchorage display will coincide with the 2008 Alaska Federation of Natives Conference.

“Giinaquq – Like A Face” will feature 34 wooden masks and a bird-shaped feast bowl collected from villages around the Kodiak archipelago. The exhibition, six years in planning, will highlight the cultural meaning of these historic carvings as well as their beauty. The objects will be mounted in individual display cases, and arranged around a full-sized cutaway model of a qasqi – an Alutiiq ceremonial building.

“These masks have been viewed as art objects for many years, it’s time to illustrate their place in Alutiiq society,” said exhibition organizer and Alutiiq Museum executive director Sven Haakanson, Jr. “We want people to understand that they are not just beautiful carvings, but part of an Alutiiq tradition of recording and sharing history. During festivals, our people used masks to tell stories, to pass information about events and beliefs to others. Each mask had its own song, created by the carver to help tell its story.”

Songs associated with some of the masks, recorded by Pinart and recently retranslated by Alutiiq Elders working with Haakanson and University of Alaska linguist Jeff Leer, will accompany the exhibition’s displays.

Owned by the Château Musée, a municipal museum in northern France, the Pinart collection has not been extensively exhibited. Recent displays in France have begun to share the rare ethnographic objects, but have been beyond the reach of most Alaskans. Collaboration between Kodiak’s Alutiiq Museum and France’s Château Musée brings a selection of Pinart’s mask collection to the United States for exhibition. The show will provide Alaskans with access to a little known piece of their cultural history and reunite Alutiiq people with the magnificent work of their ancestors.