Nome's new museum opens its doors for Iditarod week
Nome’s Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum opened its doors in the new Richard Foster building for Iditarod with a week-long roster of events in which several notable visitors stopped by, including 2016 third-place finisher Aliy Zirkle and Seavey family patriarch Dan Seavey, grandfather and father to this year’s champion and runner-up.
Amy Phillips-Chan, director of the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, welcomed visitors Thursday and took a small group on a tour of the new museum slated to open later this year in a $16.8 million multi-purpose building that also holds the library and the Katirvik Cultural Center.
In addition to museum tours, the week-long schedule of events included building a dog sled with Charlie Lean, stories from the trail with Howard Farley, “The First Great Race” book signing with Dan Seavey, a film screening of Diomede/King Island Dancing with Ray Paniataaq and Iditarod Adventures with four-time Iditarod champion Martin Buser.
Phillips-Chan, who holds a doctorate in art history and anthropology from Arizona State University, said the museum will officially open Oct. 29 with introductory exhibits on display. A second opening with more exhibits is scheduled for next year. The old museum building on Front Street could hold only about five percent of the collection, Phillips-Chan said. The new museum space is about 6,000 square feet with more than half of that devoted to the main exhibition hall, empty now except for a couple of dog sleds. The museum’s exhibition cases will arrive by barge this fall.
The museum is being designed around five main themes: Alaska Native objects, gold mining and the ivory trade in the early 1900s, the building of homes and businesses on Front Street, the transition to Nome today and the city now and in the future.
The main 3,700-square-foot gallery is done in muted tones of brown and gray, and has low-impact tract lighting and reclaimed oak floors with a linseed oil and wax finish. The space is calming.
“We really see this as a place for the community to come and check out the collection,” Phillips-Chan said.
Phillips-Chan places the emphasis on community. One of the special things about the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum is that the collection — including 15,000 objects; 12,000 photographs and negatives; and 150 square feet of archival letters, diaries and paper documents — is right here in Nome, she said.
Interior design company Formations Inc. in Portland has a $1 million contract to do the museum’s concept and design work — the building of display cases, and designing graphics and large murals. Plans call for a mini video theater and a large cylinder hanging from the ceiling that will display “skyscapes” such as the Northern Lights and a snowstorm.
Phillips-Chan took pride in showing off the museum to visitors, pointing to a mobile shelving system for optimum use of space and easy access storage drawers, as well as a floor-to-ceiling storage racks.
“We are one of the few, smaller museums to have a great shelving system like this,” she said, as she rotated very large black handles that glided the storage units on tracts across the floor.
In another room just off the loading dock, there is what looks like an ordinary chest freezer, but it isn’t. It is an ultra-low temperature freezer with temperatures at minus 45°F to kill any pests that come in on natural materials such as old fur parkas, ivory, wood and whale bones.
About two-thirds of the museum’s collection is catalogued so far. It was gathered from seven different facilities in the city. A comprehensive inventory began about a year ago, Phillips-Chan said. The museum’s long-term exhibits will be on display for at least 10 years with special exhibition galleries changed about every six months. A lot of the items in the museum collection are small pieces: harpoon heads, sewing needles, scrapers and ivory carvings. Some of the items had been in boxes for the last 50 years, she said.