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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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 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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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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A Social Media Internship with the Arctic Studies Center

By: Ismelda R. Correa. Originally published in the ASC Newsletter, No. 22, pg. 77-78.

Isme with Henry the elephant in the rotunda of NMNH

I was in residence with the Arctic Studies Center as a social media intern as part of the University of Houston partnership with the Smithsonian for three-weeks. The idea of working on social media in an anthropology office was a new experience for me. While I am confident in my technical knowledge—my major is chemical engineering—I knew I was going to work on two subjects I had limited experience with: social media and the Arctic. Don’t misunderstand me. While I am active on social media as much as every other 20-year-old, I did lack a Twitter and Instagram account. Additionally, I did not know how a research center in the most visited natural history museum in the world used Facebook. Could they post memes?

With her cheerful and approachable personality, my mentor, Meghan Mulkerin, soothed my worries soon after meeting her. My assignment was to provide the Arctic Studies Center (ASC) feedback on their social media outreach, which ranged from their own website and blog, Magnetic North, to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and to create some content of my own working with Meghan and Bill Fitzhugh. A few days after starting my internship, Meghan arranged for me to meet two other social media experts within the Smithsonian community; Maria Anderson, the Press Secretary for Latino Media and Adriel Luis, the Curator of Digital and Emerging Media at the Asian Pacific American Center. In our separate meetings, they discussed successful social media strategies and answered all of my questions. By the end of the meetings, I was better prepared to complete my assignment and amazed at the support the Smithsonian Institution offers to its interns. 

As I was learning about the do’s and don’ts of the various social media platforms, I worked on honing my tweeting skills. In an attempt to use the information I had learned on successfully engaging with our followers on Arctic subjects, I came up with my first tweet. As the day progressed, I constantly monitored the amount of retweets and favorites. Needless to say, I am extremely proud of it. As a note, the Unangax/Aleut people live in the Aleutian Islands located in western Alaska.

Isme's first tweet!

One of the benefits of interning at the Smithsonian’s NMNH is the behind the scenes access interns and fellows have to the collections. While my internship was short-term, I got to see three different collections, the Burgess Shale, paleobiology (fossil marine mammals) and the birds collection. The tours were led by researchers within the departments that encouraged our questions.

As the end of my internship approaches, I appreciate social media is more than a form of entertainment. It is a powerful tool museums are using, and constantly improving, to engage with the American public; a public that has changed and is constantly changing the way they obtain information. Most of all, I have to praise the willingness of the Smithsonian Institution and the smaller research-divisions it is made up of (like the Arctic Studies Center) to embrace the  use of social media to reach out to the American public in order to uphold their mission of increasing and spreading knowledge.

If you are interested in learning more about internships at the Smithsonian, please visit the Office of Fellowships and Internships. Watch the video below for more on what Isme and her fellow interns from the University of Houston had to say about their experiences at the Smithsonian!