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Anchorage Museum: Cool Stuff Made Of “Weird” Animal Parts

Seal Intestine Parka, Image Courtesy of the National Museum of the American Indian and the Anchorage Museum

It’s a great week to visit the Anchorage Museum: over the next eight days, the museum will be closing four special exhibits to make way for three new ones, opening in February. Since its expansion in 2010, the Anchorage Museum is now large enough that you can easily miss the great stuff. Here are my suggestions on what to see over the next week.

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. Fortunately, the main exhibit in the new Smithsonian Center, Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska, is one of the museum’s permanent exhibits. It’s not going anywhere! But, it’s just so awesome that you should see it this week anyway. The exhibit includes 600 Alaska Native artifacts, from seal scratchers to snow glasses to beaded dog blankets.

(Re)Emergence: Contemporary Native Art and Design. Unfortunately, this special exhibit is closing on January 3, so go see it now. I recommend hitting the Smithsonian stuff first, and then visiting the adjacent contemporary gallery; it is fascinating to compare the modern works with the traditional, historical artifacts next-door. Often the themes and forms are the same, but the media are different. For example, one of the contemporary masks is whimsically made of bicycle parts.

Limeade and Half-Off Appetizers. The museum café, Muse, makes the absolute best limeade in town. So delicious. And all appetizers are half-off during Happy Hours (4:00 to 6:00 p.m.) on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.

Cool Stuff Made from “Weird” Animal Parts. This is a theme throughout the entire museum. Weird, of course, is a culturally subjective label — what’s weird for me is normal for someone else. If you’re relatively new to Alaska, as I am, you may be intrigued to see rain gear on display that is made of seal intestines. Then there are the harpoons made with walrus oosik. Oosik is the Alaska term for baculum, which I am hyperlinking instead of defining so as not to rankle your computer’s content filter. Also look for the scarf made of Samoyed dog fur, on display in Earth, Fire, and Fibre, the museum’s juried craft exhibition, which is closing January 8. Yes, the artist made the scarf from hair she brushed off a dog.

Art of the North. Again, this exhibit isn’t going anywhere, but pop into the Art of the North galleries to see the Sydney Laurence paintings, including his gargantuan oil of Denali. If Laurence is too mawkish for you, look for the David Mollett and James Behlke paintings of the Arctic.

Habitat”. This is the 24-foot, 37,000-pound Antony Gormley sculpture outside the museum. If you view it from C Street, driving north to south, it may look like nothing more than an abstract jumble of metal boxes. It is only when you see it in profile (driving west to east on Sixth Avenue, for example) that you will you recognize the form. It’s a squatting man.

Free Days! General adult admission is normally $12, but admission is free on January 6 from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. for First Friday, and all day Sunday, January 8, for Hobby Day. You can spend your savings in the museum café, discussing weird animal parts over limeade.