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Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center reopens for the first time since 7.1 earthquake

Director of collections and chief conservator Monica Shah, left, and loans registrar Julia Laws move a 19th century Yup'ik mask from a temporary storage area to a display case at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center on Friday, April 12, 2019. Some display cases were damaged during the Nov. 30 earthquake and around 200 objects had to be moved while repairs took place. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

The Anchorage Museum has around 27,000 objects in its collections, from tiny flecks of gold to massive paintings that take up an entire wall. For nearly five months, museum staff have been painstakingly going through every object, looking for damage from the 7.1 earthquake that struck Southcentral Alaska on Nov. 30. With a few thousand objects left to inspect, so far only a handful have been identified with damage, all of which is repairable, according to Monica Shah, director of collections and chief conservator.

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center on Friday, April 12, 2019. The Arctic Studies Center has been closed since the Nov. 30 earthquake and will reopen Friday night. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

While most of the museum reopened quickly after the earthquake, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center remained closed until today. The center houses around 600 objects on long-term loan from the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of the American Indian.

Most of the objects in the Arctic Studies Center are housed in floor-to-ceiling glass display cases, and during the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks four of the 12- by 6-foot panels cracked. Specialists from the display case manufacturer, Kubik-Maltbie, traveled to Anchorage a week after the earthquake to examine the cases and begin the repair process. Replacement glass had to be custom ordered from a manufacturer in Ontario.

Objects on display at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center on Friday, April 12, 2019. The Arctic Studies Center has been closed since the Nov. 30 earthquake and will reopen Friday night. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

In early February, conservators and registrars from the Smithsonian came to inspect all the objects and move about 200 of them to temporary storage while the display cases were repaired. When the glass arrived in mid-March, Kubik-Maltbie returned to begin the repair process, working 10-hour days, six days a week. Replacing each panel took a week.

Earlier this week, a smaller crew from the Smithsonian returned to move most of the objects back into the repaired display cases. “We try not to touch the objects when they are moved,” said Shah. On Friday, she was finishing up moving the last few objects, Yup’ik masks, into their cases.

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