Volunteer Appreciation: Gina Reitenauer

Here at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, our volunteers do some amazing work.  For Volunteer appreciation month, we’d like to highlight Gina Reitenauer who has been working with us on preparing materials for publication.  She has assisted with bibliographic formatting, acquiring image permissions, and putting together our yearly field report.  Her work is helping us spread knowledge of Eurasian bark boats and the archaeology undertaken by the ASC team in Newfoundland and Quebec last summer.

Gina Reitenauer- volunteer appreciation2

What is your background?

At Syracuse University, I dual major in English & Textual Studies and Television, Radio, & Film, with concentrations in creative writing and screenwriting. As a May 2019 graduate, however, I’ve been spending my final semester in Washington, D.C., through Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. This program has provided me the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone and expand on my knowledge of policy, the economy, and international relations.

What brought you to the ASC?

Evident by the fact that I am currently completing international relations-based coursework in Washington, D.C., I have always had an interest in tying my study of media and communications to the greater world around me. Furthermore, after spending two summers interning at the Historical Society of PA, my assumption that I would enjoy doing communications work in a museum (or otherwise historical setting) was confirmed. All that said, I set my eyes on the Smithsonian.

What has been your favorite part of working here?

One of my favorite parts about working in the Arctic Studies Center has been the privilege to be around people who are so passionate about the environment and various communities of the Arctic. When I told people where I’d be interning this spring, I always received responses similar to: “That’s so niche, it’s perfect for you.” Although I enjoy history in general, working in the ASC specifically has provided me with the opportunity to further tie my media skills to the world around me in an area that, although often perceived as niche, is actually an important player in the international community. Through my work in the ASC, I’m glad to say that I have begun to develop my own passion for Arctic peoples and cultures, and that is an enrichment so valuable and wonderfully unique to the ASC.

What is the coolest or most interesting thing you have learned about at ASC?

Through acquiring image permissions for the book on Eurasian bark and skin boats, along with the completion of other manuscript-related tasks, I have been able to pick up on bits and pieces of information about this rich history. Having enjoyed kayaking adventures with my Dad for a few summers, and not knowing much of anything about bark and skin boats previously, it has been really cool to learn about the subject. I’ve also greatly expanded on my knowledge of Arctic geography!


Collections Highlight E29966: Stone Lamp


Stone Lamp
By Mary Gay

This qulliq/kudlik (oil lamp) affiliated with the Inuit Native group from Baffin Island, Nunavut was collected and donated by Lt. William A. Mintzer, and accessioned into the museum in 1876. Blubber would be pounded up in the concave part of the stone to access the oil and some sort of moss or other plant matter would be placed along the edge of the stone as a wick that would be lit with flint. It was usually the woman’s job to tend to the lamp to provide continuous light and heat to the home during the cold, dark winter.   

Explore more objects and images on our online database!

Collections Highlight E424728: Woman’s Boots and Socks (Kamiks)

Inuit woman's boots and socks

By Mary Gay

These Kamiks (boots) and removable socks are affiliated with the Western Greenland Inuit Native group. The boots are made of red and white depilated sealskin (skin with the hair removed), with brown sealskin soles, and the socks are made of sealskin with fur on the inside. At some point, the brown fur cuffs above the white cuffs on the boots were removed from the socks and attached there. The beautiful embroidery seen on these boots is a method known a avigtat embroidery, invented by the Inuit of Greenland. This method is done by sewing tiny pieces of dyed skin into patterns. This style of Kamiks is referenced in The Art of Greenland by Bodil Kaalund which explains that long, red boots with this style of embroidery up the shin and around the knee were made for women getting married (147).  The Kamiks measure 58 & 57 cm in height and the soles measure 23 & 21 cm in length. They were collected and donated by Paul Oscanyan in 1927-1928.

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Collections Highlight E425709: Miniature Sled

Inuit Miniature sled from Rigolet, Labrador.

By Mary Gay

This object is affiliated with the Inuit Native group in Labrador, Canada. It was created by Garmel Riche, who is originally from Bluff Head Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador, in 1986-1987. It is a work of basketry using the coiling technique, and sewing, made from beach grass with brass wire runners wrapped in grass. One of the runners has broken off. The sled is 15.5 cm long, 6.8 cm wide, and 3.0 cm tall. Sarah Baikie collected it from Rigolet, Labrador and donated it to the museum where it was accessioned on December 1, 1989.

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Introducing Our New YouTube Channel

The Alaska office of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum has completed a new YouTube channel, presenting videos from its programs, where you can learn from Alaska Native elders, culture bearers and artists about their languages, arts and lifeways.

Playlist subjects include Dena’ina, Iñupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik languages and cultures; making Aleutian Island bentwood hats; processing and making art with salmon, gut, ivory, porcupine quill and cedar bark.

ASC YouTube Channel
ASC YouTube Channel Home Page

Collections Highlight E424737: Beaded Mat

Western Greenland Inuit Native Group beaded mat

By Mary Gay 

This mat is affiliated with the Western Greenland Inuit Native group and was collected in 1927-1928 by Paul Oscanyan on the west coast of Greenland. A young, unnamed Inuit girl made and gifted it to Oscanyan in gratitude for him teaching her brother navigation. The mat is made of cotton string, beaded with small glass beads and has a diameter of 20.3 cm. Native Greenlanders have used beading as decoration for centuries using natural materials such as bone until the introduction of glass beads by Europeans.       

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Collections Highlight E29973: Woman’s knife

By Emily Cain and Haley Bryant with Krista Zawadski, with support from the Government of Nunavut and the Dept. of Anthropology, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

This ulu (semilunar knife) was collected by Lt. William A. Mintzer near Kangiqtualuk (the Cumberland Gulf) during his expedition to find graphite veins for mining on Baffin Island. In 1876, the museum records state that “7 boxes, [and] 1 keg, containing stuffed seal, bows and arrows, etc. bird eggs, stone lamps” (and this ulu) had arrived from Mintzer by means of a schooner, the Era.  While early uluit were most often made of polished slate and bone, repurposed metals such as iron became preferred for their hardness and ability to hold a sharp edge. This ulu, for example, is made of several pieces of metal riveted together. In the catalog notes, Lt. Mintzer speculates that the handle is made from oak recovered from a whaling ship.

Fishing has always been an important part of life for those who live near the Cumberland Gulf. Traditional preparation of the daily catch is done with an ulu, a practice which continues amongst skilled practitioners today. In Pangnirtung, the only major community on the Cumberland Gulf, fishing continues to be an important industry, with a newly-modernized fishery and processing plant exporting arctic char and Baffin turbot internationally.

Uluit are at the same time intimate and practical, and are very much an aspect of everyday Inuit life. They have been utilized for purposes as diverse as cutting a child's hair, preparing food for one’s family, and trimming blocks of snow and ice to make a shelter. In many households, an ulu is passed down through generations, accumulating the knowledge and skill of its many users over time.

Many Inuit have a favourite ulu, and most ulu-makers take a lot of pride in their craftsmanship. Ulu-makers, who are often men, create a reputation of their craftsmanship, and women will eye particular uluit made by particular makers. For example, Krista Zawadski, curator of Inuit art with the Government of Nunavut, recalls that her grandfather was known to be a skilled craftsman, and that “it was a privilege to get one of his tools”.

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Collections Highlight E427952: Kayak Model and Figure


By Emily Cain and Haley Bryant with Krista Zawadski, with support from the Government of Nunavut and the Dept. of Anthropology, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

In 1974, this hunter and his kayak (qajaq) were carved from grey soapstone by Dick Kilikavioyak (1902-1982). Collected the same year they were made by Dr. G. Edgar Folk, Jr. and his wife Mary Arp Folk, the pair joined the collection at the National Museum of Natural History in 1995, along with 129 other objects, as a part of the “Mary Arp Folk Collection of Eskimo Art and Artifacts”. Dick Kilikavioyak was an Inuk (Innuinait) artist based in Kugluktuk, Nunavut (formerly known as Coppermine). This little stone hunter is equipped with a wooden paddle and two spears (made with wooden hafts and metal points, then secured to the kayak with sinew). There are two stone fish in the kayak with him, indicating a successful day on the water. Today, as throughout all its history, traditional hunting and fishing play an enormous role in the lives of the people along the Coppermine River. These activities feed and clothe families and provide a connection to ancestral lands and practices. More recently, kayaking (as well as hiking, fishing, hunting, and other outdoor activities) has also played a role in the burgeoning tourism industry in Kugluktuk, and Nunavut more broadly.

This object is evocative of life in Kugluktuk in more than one way, however. While the content matter of this sculpture provides insight into the traditional and contemporary economies of the region, the form and matter of the sculpture also convey a great deal. Examining carved objects and artworks such as this allow us a window onto the traditional carving practices in this region, as well as how they were shaped and encouraged by the mid-century growth of external demand for Inuit art.

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Arctic Connections

The Circumpolar Ethnology Imaging Project (CEIP), now in its third year, has successfully digitized nearly 50% of the vast Arctic and Subarctic ethnological collections in the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History. Starting this month, we are photographing objects from Nunavut, the largest and northernmost Territory of Canada. Throughout this process, we have the privilege of collaborating with the Government of Nunavut to publicize and promote this portion of our work, and make these collections more accessible to the people of Nunavut and beyond. Each week while we are working through these collections, we will highlight an object from Nunavut. To kick off this collaboration, Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Curator of Inuit Art for the Government of Nunavut, discusses why collections digitization efforts, such as the CEIP, are so important for the Inuit community in Nunavut and across the Arctic. Posts will be made available in Inuktitut, Innuinaqtun, English, and French both directly on this blog and through the Government of Nunavut’s social media platforms.

– Haley Bryant (Digitization Technician) & Emily Cain (Digitization Specialist)

 Connecting people across the vast Arctic has always been a challenge. Despite a vast geographical expanse, Inuit have stayed connected through oral traditions, language, and cultural customs and more contemporarily through media and technology. Taking advantage of technology and media today we are able to bond people across the Arctic and throughout the globe, but by a much faster means and a more comprehensive manner than previously. Where, in the past, Inuit shared news and stories through oral traditions such as those shared in a qaggiq (a large iglu where drum dances and stories occurred), today we continue to share the same type of news and oral histories through different mediums. Where, in the past, Inuit traveled across the land on foot, with dog teams, and boats and qajait (singular: qajaq) to connect with other families and peoples, today we travel through air and through the internet, fostering a language of images and symbols in the context of the digital.

Digitization is a significant step in connecting people, complementing the already existent connections that have been maintained through generations of oral traditions and histories, but now also reaching people beyond the Arctic. Where there are significant challenges in accessing museums and museum collections from the Arctic, especially in Nunavut where there is no large museum, digitization bridges a gap, allowing Inuit – and others around the world – to have access digitally to our own Inuit cultural heritage, often connecting us with belongings that may still remain in our living memory through our oral traditions. Re-connecting with belongings that may have been made by one’s own great-grandparent is a thrilling and emotionally intense moment when accessing collections and is an integral hope in the links digitization seeks to strengthen.

The role of the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage in the process of digitization is to promote the work of the Smithsonian Institution’s significant movement in fostering connections between people and the belongings in its collections. Our department believes it is important to inform Nunavummiut (people of Nunavut) that belongings from Nunavut are now available to view online, which will benefit all Nunavummiut by enriching the traditional knowledge we already hold as Inuit. As the Curator of Inuit Art, I have personally experienced the power of accessing museum collections and felt the emotion of being near my ancestors through belongings and am excited to see Inuit belongings become available to many through digitization.

 – Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Curator of Inuit Art, Government of Nunavut

Begin exploring the Arctic and Subarctic materials at the Smithsonian by clicking here.