ArtBeat: Museum hopes Alaskans can put names to 'mystery photos'

Mike Dunham

From 1900 to 1990, innumerable photos were taken in Alaska's cities and villages. Hundreds -- probably more -- are now kept at the Anchorage Museum's Bob and Evangeline Atwood Alaska Resource Center, and a huge number have no names or other identification attached.

Here's where you come in.

The archive will host a "Mystery Photo" session 6-8 p.m. Friday, May 2. Members of the public are asked to stop in, take a look, and add any information they can.

The archive has a "huge pile" of around 750 scans and prints they'll pull out for the occasion, said photo archivist Sara Piasecki. The photos will be roughly organized by date and region. Southeast, Anchorage, Bethel or Interior people will be able to go through different files. But don't feel constrained. At an earlier event, held during the Alaska Federation of Natives Conference, Nora Valez of Anchorage recognized her mother in a photo from around 1940. Her mother, Lucy Kelly, was from Old Harbor on Kodiak Island, but the photo was labeled as being from Attu, more than 1,000 miles to the west.

"The AFN event was our first picture project," said the Resource Center's manager, Teressa Williams. "We weren't sure how it would turn out."

"There were a number of people who recognized family pictures," Piasecki said.

Most of the 440 photos shown at the first event were taken in Alaska Native villages. For the upcoming session there are a number of Anchorage photos as well, including people, places and a whole bunch of early aviation photos.

The format is pretty casual, Piasecki said. People can come in, flip through, and, if they see something or someone they recognize, write what they know right on the print.

"We're not just looking for people who can I.D. the photos, but also for people who will be willing to be consulted in the future," Piasecki said.

Future "Mystery Photo" sessions will be dependent on grants and, to some extent, the success of the upcoming event. "We'll just see how this plays and adjust," said Williams.

Even if you don't think you remember much, it's amazing how a photo can jog the memory. While looking over photos in advance of the 50th anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake, I was amazed at how many images from my youth popped into mind as I took a visual stroll through the past.

On a deeper level, it's important to know the people in historic photos. Too often pictures of old timers and Native people are used anonymously, as if they were just part of the scenery. They all had names, families and lives. In my opinion, posterity owes them the dignity of clear identification and recognition as human beings.

The Resource Center is right at the front of the museum's main entrance, 625 C St. The event is free -- and kind of a public service.

'Arctic Son' set for re-release Tuesday

The sources for today's main article about tourist gift sales in Alaska repeatedly named the book "Arctic Son" by Jean Aspen as one of the success stories. The book recounts a family's time in the Brooks Range, building a cabin and living off the land. Originally published by Dell in 1995, it has recently been re-released in paperback by Alaska Northwest/Graphic Art Books. An associated DVD is also hitting shelves. It was shown at the Anchorage International Film Festival, recounts and updates the story.

Several events are planned for the re-release, including a book signing at 4 p.m. April 28, at Fireside Books in Palmer and the official book/film launch at 7 p.m. April 29, at the Anchorage Museum. The film will be shown in Anchorage on KAKM and statewide on public affairs television 360 North at 8 p.m. April 30 and 7 p.m. May 4.

Pianist Fukasawa return concert

Five years ago Juilliard-trained pianist Natsuki Fukasawa gave a splendid recital in Anchorage. She will return for a highly anticipated program of major romantic works by Beethoven, Chopin and Rachmaninoff at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 2, in the UAA Recital Hall. The program will include the "Moonlight Sonata." Parking is free and tickets are available at This will be the last event of the 2013-2014 academic year for the UAA Department of Music's much undervalued (in my opinion) series of superb visiting musicians.

Reviews online

Speaking of music, a review of last night's concert by the Anchorage Symphony is posted at along with the announcement of the orchestra's 2014-15 season. You'll also find a review of Dick Reichman's latest play, "Audition," which debuted Friday at Cyrano's and continues into May.

Books and pots

The Anchorage Senior Activity Center is holding their Giant Book Sale this weekend and beyond. It's one of its biggest fundraisers. Come browse between 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, April 27, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday or 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday at 1300 East 19th Ave.

The UAA pottery students' Clay Body Spring Sale will take place 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday at Gordon Hartleib Hall on the north side of the campus. Pick up bowls, cups and other ceramic originals at starving student prices.

Dueling concerts

The Alaska Youth Orchestras will give their spring concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, in the Discovery Theatre. The program will include Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony and Saint-Saen's Third Violin Concerto with soloist Eunice Kang, the concertmaster of the Anchorage Youth Symphony.

Also on Saturday, at 7 p.m., the Anchorage Community Concert Band will present its spring concert at Bartlett High School auditorium. Admission is $6, $3 for seniors and children under 12. Both of these programs are good choices for families with young children.

Turkish folk singer Aysenur Kolivar will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Anchorage Museum auditorium, but with limited seating and admission by donation, patrons are advised to show up early.

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.