Collections Highlight E10439: Inuit Stone Lamp

By Daniel Kellam

This half-moon soapstone bowl is much more than what it appears. Our catalog information indicates this stone lamp was attributed to the “Eskimo”, today known as Inuit, cultural group. This lamp was collected by Captain C.F. Hall in 1871 in Repulse Bay, Canada. The stone bowl would be filled with oil or blubber, then a wick made of dry moss or grass would be inserted and, voila, you have a lamp that is capable of providing light and heat for hours when properly maintained. This lamp is roughly 27 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 3-5 inches tall. Like many soapstone vessels in our collections, this lamp was broken at some point.  It has been skillfully repaired with sinew and possibly some form of glue.

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Collections Highlight E167940: Coffee-Caddy

By Daniel Kellam

Americans, along with many other peoples around the world, have an obsession with their coffee. We drink it everyday, often in large amounts. We have ceramic mugs, travel mugs, color changing mugs, and even disposable stryofoam coffee cups. What does one do when none of these resources are at your disposal? This vessel, which comes from Lapland, looks similar to many other vessels found throughout the region but was specifically used to transport coffee! This coffee caddy was collected in 1893 by Hon. J.M. Crawford and was accessioned by the museum in October of that year. It is made of wood, and is ornately carved. While this caddy was most likely used to transport and hold dry coffee beans, it highlights the similarities and differences among cultures through the lens of something as simple as a beverage many people consume daily.

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Collections Highlight E2441: Chukchi shoes

By Daniel Kellam

This pair of summer boots comes from Russian Siberia and are attributed to the Chukchi peoples. Originally collected in 1863 on the J. Rodgers & United States North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition, they are manufactured out of dressed animal skins. According to notes left by Dr. Ilja S. Gurvich, the head of the Northern and Siberian Peoples Department in the former U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences, Moscow in 1982, the soles are made of walrus skin and the upper portions are made of seal skin. The boots were collected some time between 1853-1856  by Captain John Rodgers and accessioned by the museum in 1863.

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Collection Highlight E280184: Gut Skin Parka


By Daniel Kellam.

In modern times, if the weather turns bad and you get caught in the rain you grab an umbrella or perhaps a lightweight nylon rain jacket from a popular outdoor company. But what if you don’t have access to resources like those and you need to rely on something from nature? You can look no further than the inside of a seal or other marine mammal. Seal intestines, also known as “gut skin” is the traditional material used by Arctic indigenous cultures to provide them with an incredibly lightweight and versatile weatherproof shell to wear when hunting in poor weather or at sea, and it is even used in ceremonial dress.

This gut skin parka comes from St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, Alaska. Donated by Riley D. Moore in 1913, it is made from seal or walrus intestine and decorated with crested auklet feathers, fur, and even sports a drawstring hood. The waterproof seams are achieved by a process of using sinew thread and a technique that folds and reinforces the seam with a method of sewing that allows the material not to be pierced all the way through. To see how the gut skin is processed and used check out Material Traditions: Sewing Gut, from the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum where three Native Alaskan artists demonstrate the proper techniques to manufacture this ingenious solution to keeping dry.

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Collections Highlight E5608: Pair of Bracelets

By Emily Cain

Can you guess what these colorful bracelets are made of? They each have borders of small white beads, but most of what you’re seeing is porcupine quill embroidery! Porcupine quills are commonly used decoratively across North America. The quills are flattened and dyed, then folded and sewn to create colorful patterns like this one. You can learn more about traditional quillwork knowledge here, in the curriculum the Arctic Studies Center produced as part of the Sharing Knowledge Alaska program. These particular bracelets, which became part of our collection in 1868, were likely made by the Gwich’in people of Northern Alaska and Northwestern Canada. As you’ll learn from the curriculum, the Gwich’in word for quill is ch’oo.

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Collections Highlight E33187: Toy Bow Drill

By Emily Cain

Bow drills are a practical object; they allow the user to harness friction to drill holes or start fires. This “toy” version was collected by Edward Nelson at St. Michael in Norton Sound, Alaska, and came to the museum in 1878. It may have been used by children to practice motor skills, but it is also covered with etched and inlaid images! Click here to see more detailed photographs of the artwork, which includes walruses, people, and seafaring vessels. If you’re interested in tools like this one, try searching for more bow drills using the Anthropology Collections Search online. They come from all over the world, in a variety of styles and materials.

Collections Highlight E428706: Chief’s Coat

E428706By By Emily Cain & Haley Bryant

In recognition of our 20th collections highlight, we’d like to not only share yet another great object, but also give you a glimpse into our process at the Circumpolar Ethnology Imaging Project. Learn more about the project’s origins in our introductory post!

This beautiful coat, made of smoked moose hide with caribou hair embroidery, was made by Dixie Alexander, a Gwich’in woman and master artist from Fort Yukon, Alaska. Click here to explore more images of the incredible beadwork and colorful caribou hair embroidery, which are evocative of arctic flora and symbolic of various animal tracks.

From a practical perspective, doing photoshoots with clothing like this coat presents a challenge. Because of their size, age, and weight, they require extra time and extra hands. Thanks to the arrival of our new digital imaging intern, Daniel Kellam, we are now able to devote time to photographing parkas, robes, and blankets every single week. So if you’re a lover of fashion, keep an eye out for more incredible clothing pieces by checking back in on the blog or exploring the Anthropology collections online!