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Quake-damaged Smithsonian exhibit at Anchorage Museum won’t reopen until March

A display in the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center allows visitors to use an interactive screen to get detailed views of the Native masks in the case before them. (Photo by Chuck Choi, courtesy of the Anchorage Museum)

It will be mid-March before a unique Smithsonian Institution exhibition at the Anchorage Museum can reopen after the November earthquake cracked glass cases that are tricky to replace.

The magnitude 7.0 quake wreaked other damage around the museum, including fallen ceiling tiles and other minor damage in the older, 1980s-era part of the building, officials say.

But while normal operations mostly returned within days after the shaking, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center remains closed.

The center’s main exhibition, “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska,” features hundreds of largely Alaska Native artifacts on loan from Smithsonian collections. Items include a 1935 Inupiaq feast bowl from Wales, a village near Nome, and an 1893 Tlingit war helmet from Taku in Southeast.

The quake caused “minor damage” in the form of small cracks in several parts of specialized glass cases that hold exhibits, said Kirsten Anderson, the museum’s deputy director of collections, special exhibitions, and projects. The quake didn’t damage any of the items.

“The glass itself has specialized requirements for allowing artists and researchers to allow them to open them quickly and carefully,” Anderson said. It’s likely some elements will need to be shipped up from the Lower 48.

The repairs are further complicated by the need to have Smithsonian representatives on hand, she said. That means travel that will take time to arrange. The items will be temporarily removed during repairs.

The Smithsonian exhibition opened in 2010 and closes in 2022, though some items from the museum’s collection will remain on display after that. The Arctic Studies Center will continue.

It’s remarkable that the museum in general fared so well, Anderson said. “Fortunately, we have really great conservators and mount-makers.”

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