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Anchorage Loan Conservation Project

Revising Cultural Attributions and Monitoring Change


Hole in Inupiaq kayak

Illustration of kayak reconstruction

This wooden framed seal and walrus skin kayak was collected by Mrs. Marjorie Merriweather Post and subsequently acquired by the Smithsonian in 1975. It was attributed to the Norton Sound region. In 2007, Yup’ik consultants Chuna McIntyre and Vernon Chimalegrea (above left) met with the project conservation staff and to discuss the attribution of the kayak and suggested that it may be a northern style kayak, probably Inupiaq.

Chuna McIntyre and Vernon Chimalegrea noted that the hole at the bow of the kayak, used for lifting, is different in Yup’ik or Norton Sound kayaks, being more circular. Lifting holes in kayaks from the northern region are more oval or elongated, like that shown in the NMNH kayak, pictured above.

The conservation project team recorded details of the construction of the kayak, and its condition in illustrations and conservation reports.

Interior of the kayak Illustration of sinew stitches Stabalizatoin of the hide lines

In addition, photographs of the interior of the kayak provided a visual record of construction methods.

During examination conservators discovered that sinew stitches in the kayak were sewn into, but not through the skin in the seams and the overlapping skin was then folded over and finished in the same manner. These sewing methods are characteristic of an Inupiaq style King Island kayak – a northern style kayak.

Some of the hide lines on the kayak were weak or broken and required stabilization. The lines were reassembled and adhered using rice paper and monofilament splints and a clear, stable adhesive that can be removed using appropriate solvents, if needed.

Curator Crowell meets with conservation staff Dr. Mecklebburg meets with conservation staff  

Project conservation staff met with exhibition curator, Dr. Aron Crowel, (above right) and reviewed the accumulated information, gathered through consultations and research, and agreed that this is most likely a King Island kayak.

The ongoing balance between access and preservation inspired collaborations with many specialists including Smithsonian conservation scientist Dr. Marion Mecklenburg (above right), who was consulted regarding the physics of stretched skin objects when subjected to unstable conditions. Dr. Mecklenburg assisted in identifying objects most sensitive to fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity. The full-sized kayak was included in these discussions.

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