A model of an ancient Alaska flying reptile is taking shape at the University Center. The full model, destined for the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature, will be about the size of a Piper Cub. As of last week, artist James Havens had the head and neck suspended in the atrium of the center and the wings, still getting touched up, were in the former Bodega liquor store on the Natural Pantry end of the mall. The sculpture is said to represent a pterosaur whose tracks have been found in Denali National Park and Preserve.
For the purposes of perspective, this Mesozoic buzzard's beak is about 6 feet long, big enough to hold an upright piano. Stand in front of it and you'll know what a wood frog feels like when a crane comes at it.
As with his previous projects, Havens is inviting members of the public to help him paint the critter. Call Andi Havens to make an appointment, 808-345-5898. Stop by the center during business hours to catch the progress.
Swan song for Fritz Creek soirees
The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra Summer Music Festival events have included parties with music in the gardens of Fritz Creek Nursery. But today's program at 2:30 p.m. will mark an end to that era. "The owners of these gardens has divulged that this will be the last opportunity to view them as they will be converted to peony fields after this event," reads a press release.
The growing popularity of peonies plus Alaska's disease free conditions and a peak season that coincides with a non-production time for out-of-state nurseries have made the flowers an important cash crop for some Alaska nurseries.
Other festival events include chamber concerts in Soldotna and Homer on Friday and Aug. 5, and the "Strings at Sunset" ferry ride to Seldovia and back to Homer on Aug. 4.
The festival finale will feature performances of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 in Homer and Kenai on Aug. 9 and 10.
We seem to be in a golden age of Alaska history. A number of books illuminating aspects of the state's past have crossed my desk in the past year or so. The most recent volume to come to my attention is "A Russian American Photographer in Tlingit Country: Vincent Soboleff in Alaska" (University of Oklahoma Press) by Sergei A. Kan, an anthropologist associated with Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. It might be better to call Kan the editor since the main content, we understand, is the photos Soboleff took of daily life and special events in the vicinity of his home village Killisnoo and other Southeast towns and cities.
The son of the town's Russian Orthodox priest, Soboleff, a "creole," was fluent in the Tlingit language and an integral part of the little community. It was something of a happening place at the turn of the 20th century, what with fishing, tourism, mining and other business interests transforming the area.
A New York Times writer notes that his photos, particularly of his fellow villagers, are "significantly different from others of the period," unposed and more intimate. They are also impressively clear and well-lit; the photographer knew his craft. Most were taken over the course of about 20 years starting in the late 1890s.
We have yet to get a copy of the book here, but I've posted a link to the New York Times review and more samples of Soboleff's collection, reported to contain 780 plates donated to the Alaska State Library, are at adn.com/artsnob. They make me eager to see more.
One thrust of Kan's research is the process of assimilation, or rather the merging of cultures as a consequence of interaction and intermarriage between Native Alaskans and Russian settlers. That topic is also addressed, though not as a thesis, in a remarkable first publication of the Alaska journals of Edward Adams, edited by Ernest Sipes of North Pole and titled "Into the Savage Land" (Hancock House).
Adams was a young British officer and doctor dropped off at the Russian trading post of Saint Michael in 1850. His mission was to pursue rumors that explorer John Franklin had somehow made his way to the central Yukon River, a blank spot on British maps at the time. (Sir John was actually dead many hundreds of miles north.)
Adams overwintered at the redoubt, making detailed observations of both the soldiers and the Yup'ik populations, with details that many will find new. For some reason, for instance, the Russian quarters were filled with mice while the Yup'ik dwellings had none. Also, in contrast with widely circulated stories of intertribal warfare, the Yup'ik on this part of the coast apparently had good relations with the Athabascans upriver.
A few hundred miles away, however, things were different. The most inland Russian post, Nulato, was the scene of a famous massacre; Adams' report from the scene is particularly illuminating.
Sipes does his subject and the reader a great service by keeping commentary to a minimum and letting Adams do the writing. After his Alaska adventure, the author of the journals virtually disappeared. Little is known of his later life and no photo of him appears to be available.
A grainy photo of Etta Jones is used on the cover of "Last Letters from Attu." Jones was the teacher in the Aleutian village when Japanese took it over in 1942. The photo of her with Attuan women and children was likely taken shortly after she had watched the invaders decapitate the corpse of her husband, Charles Foster Jones, and sometime before she and the rest were removed from the island as civilian prisoners of war.
The fate of the Joneses in World War II is the best known thing about them. I've previously dug into the last half of the book for reference when working on stories about the invasion and reconquest of the island, and for an interview with the late Nick Golodoff, one of the last survivors of the village and himself the author of an important first generation history, "Attu Boy."
More recently I looked into the first chapters of the book. Etta Jones' niece Mary Breu served as editor of the volume, subtitled "The True Story of Etta Jones, Alaska Pioneer and Japanese P.O.W." (Alaska Northwest Books), drawing on old letters and her aunt's unpublished memoir. Jones largely kept silent about her war experiences, but her 20 years in schools across the territory (Tanana, Tatitlek, Old Harbor, Kipnuk) are a book all by themselves. She loved Alaska from the moment she arrived in 1922 and regaled her relatives with details about mushing, gardening, food preservation and daily life.
Of particular interest are her letters from Kipnuk; the village still consisted of sod homes at the time; the school was not yet complete when the Joneses were dropped off. The villagers, few of whom had ever seen an airplane, used "no sugar, salt, milk or vegetables," she writes in a paragraph commenting on the robustness of the women and their diet. "I doubt if there is a sack of flour in the whole village."
We learn more about Mr. Jones, too. He came into the country via Chilkoot Pass and the Klondike during the Gold Rush and never left. He apparently had something to do with the Nome serum run, though he's not listed as one of the mushers.
Like his wife, he loved to read. Her heart leapt when the mail came with copies of books by Willa Cather or Sigrid Undset. He was fond of Robert Service. The story is told of how a prospecting partner complained that he'd spent part of their stake to get a book of the bard's poetry in advance of a long trip. Jones replied, "When we get back to our shack on Birch Creek, look at the pleasure we will get from reading those poems."
Etta Jones died in Florida in 1965. After the war, Charles Foster Jones' body was removed from Attu and interred at the National Cemetery on Fort Richardson. Breu tells me a Masonic ceremony is planned there for June 6, 2014, the 72nd anniversary of his death.
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM