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Bethel museum seeks artifacts for 'Early Bush Pilots of the Y-K Delta' exhibit

Colleen Mondor
Bethel, a hub village for Southwest Alaska that's located in the Yukon-Kuskokwim River delta, has a long and storied connection to aviation. A local museum hopes locals will search "closets and attics" for artifacts to be featured in a forthcoming Alaska Bush Pilot exhibit. George Coyle / State of Alaska

The Yupiit Piciryarait Museum in Bethel, Alaska, is looking forward to celebrating the village’s long association with aviation later this month -- but needs help. On May 26, Bethel will host the Alaska Air Show Association barnstormers as they stop by in their statewide celebration of a century of flight in Alaska. Several aircraft will be on hand and, weather permitting, will fly over the town, giving residents a look at some equipment they have likely rarely seen.

The museum hopes to join in on the excitement with a look back at what aviation has meant to the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region over the years.

"We are planning an exhibit of Bush pilots of southwestern Alaska," explains museum director Eva Malvich. "We want to include photos, movies and objects that show how long aviation has been part of life here."

Malvich has been gathering items and lucked into a few exceptional finds, but she is certain that there's more out there and urges folks to "search their closets and attics" to find objects that can be loaned for display.

"We have already received a movie from the 1940s of an aircraft landing on the Kuskokwim River that we are very excited about," she says. "And I know there is much more out there that we can share with visitors."

The Yupiit Piciryarait Museum exhibit coincides with an open house and barbecue at the local flight school, Yuut Yaqungviat ("where people earn their wings"). Also, local airline Grant Aviation will have pilots on the ground to meet with local children and sign posters. There will be T-shirts and other giveaways.

Malvich hopes the barnstormers and barbecue will attract a large group of young people.

"The jet comes in three times a day now," she said, referring to Alaska Airlines' daily schedule, and "the kids here do not remember a time when there was no jet at all."

She is eager to share with those children just how much aviation has transformed the village into a regional transportation hub while making clear how much impact aviation has on Bethel’s economy.

"Everything happens with the planes, and it has for a long time."

More info:

Yupiit Piciryarait Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday noon-4 p.m. People interested in loaning or donating an item for the "Early Bush Pilots of the Y-K Delta" exhibit should phone 543-1819 for information.

Contact Colleen Mondor at colleen(at)alaskadispatch.com