Naknek celebrates soft opening of new museum

Jul 23, 2015

The collection, housed in a refurbished  77-year-old building in downtown Naknek, features relics of the Bristol Bay fishery and traditional culture. 

Several intricate model sailing schooners are on display.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Naknek celebrated the grand opening of its new museum last Saturday.  The museum showcases artifacts from the Bristol Bay fishing industry and traditional culture. The Bristol Bay Historical Society hopes the museum will give local tourism a boost and connect residents to the region’s history through objects. 

The new museum is housed in an historic building across from the library in downtown Naknek.

Naknek artist LaRece Egli is a summer intern with the museum. She says the building has come a long way even in the last few months.  

Three weeks ago the floor wasn’t yet finished, the walls were dirty, none of the artifacts had been moved in and cleaned, the cases were still sitting in crates in Anchorage… so it’s been a complete transformation.

Bristol Bay Historical Society intern LaRece Egli unwraps several glazed ceramic plates that came from old canneries. The plates were donated to the museum by Naknek resident Rod Cyr.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

The items in the collection mostly came from the old Naknek museum, which has been closed for years. There are model sailing schooners, cedar corks, old cannery equipment, and a hand-sewn fur parka.

Bristol Bay Historical Society President Fred Anderson says lead exhibits technician Ted Gardeline from the Anchorage Museum and his wife Pat volunteered their time and expertise to clean and restore many of the artifacts. 

Egli, who helped with the restoration, says the painstaking work was all worth it to hear the stories people have about the objects in the collection.

I mean, even that coffee can sitting right over there that we’re accepting donations in… in the last 24 hours I’ve heard 2 stories about how those cans were valued because they’re square, I guess they were coveted for berry picking because they could be mounted onto a frame of a backpack easily.. And that’s just a coffee can!

A beautiful fur parka, handcrafted by Annahook Thompson, is one of the most eyecatching pieces upon entering the museum.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

Among the visitors on opening day was Tim Troll, who wrote a book about the sailing days of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. Troll says he was amazed by one item in particular – a gear list from an old cannery.

"It’s a board that has sailboat numbers from 1 to 37 along the vertical, and along the horizontal it has gear, like your stove, your tent, your water beaker… so that every fisherman they checked off their particular gear for the fishing boat, and then the cannery sent them out there," says Troll." I’d never seen anything like that. You know, it gives you a real feel for those guys out there…. That really does tell the story right there, once you understand what it is."

Volunteers from Alaska General Seafoods built an entry ramp the day before the opening. Anderson says refurbishing the building was a community effort, with dozens pitching in.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG

The museum’s collection will continue to grow. Anderson says the Society is planning to create several outbuildings on the property to showcase donated planes and vessels.

"We have a growing collection of wooden boats, all the way from a sailboat conversation, up to the last wooden boat made before they went to fiberglass," says Anderson. "it’ll be very nice and interesting.

In the coming weeks, the Historical Society will hammer out the details of running the new museum. They’ll set regular hours, charge admission, and open a coffee shop next door.

They expect the fundraising, and the story gathering, will be ongoing indefinitely.

A hand-sewn children's toy is one of Egli's favorite pieces in the collection. "What really warms my heart is the little ptarmigan feet!" she said.
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG
Credit Hannah Colton/KDLG