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Anchorage Loan Conservation Project


Coming full circle

Consultant Ayek holding inupiaq harpoon

Murdoch's harpoon drawing

Inupiaq harpoon

An aspect of conservation work includes documenting the materials of manufacture, construction technology and condition of objects. Inupiaq artist and traditional hunter, Sylvester Ayek (above), generously added to our understanding of Inupiaq tools. He examined all the Inupiaq hunting implements chosen for the exhibit, explained the cultural significance of each, the materials used in their manufacture, and how they were made and maintained. Mr. Ayek noted where parts were missing or broken. In addressing care of objects in the museum he stated that these objects were now for the most part, ”old and tired” and should be cared for with minimal conservation intervention.

One harpoon selected for the exhibit had a broken foreshaft. An investigation of collections documentation indicated that the harpoon had been purchased by Patrick Henry Ray during the International Polar Expedition to Point Barrow, Alaska during 1881-1883. Project conservators consulted John Murdoch’s expedition publication entitled Ethnological Results of the Point Barrow Expedition, and discovered a detailed description of this same harpoon as well as a line drawing showing the length of the original foreshaft.

The dimensions of the missing section of the foreshaft were extrapolated from the line drawing of the harpoon. With this information a member of the project collections staff was able to locate the missing foreshaft, found broken in two pieces, in special storage drawers for disassociated object parts.The image above shows the recovered detached sections of foreshaft.

reassembly of Inupiaq harpoon Object bracket for harpoon

The broken sections of the foreshaft fit cleanly to the harpoon and were reattached. The existing detachable metal blade and socket that typically fit into the end of the foreshaft could now be reinserted at the tip of the shaft. Reuniting the missing sections restored the functionality of the harpoon.

As with all the objects selected for this loan, the harpoon will be, on occasion, removed from exhibit for study and examination. The dual functions of exhibition and access for study and examination were addressed by complex mount design, which supports the object overall as well as immobilizing weak elements to allow for repeated handling. And so, the harpoon comes full circle, having left Alaska in tact when it was collected and returning whole for exhibition.

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