Sunday, July 3, 2016

University of Alaska Museum of the North

This being a free day on our own, we decided to go to the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

The red bus picked us up at 10 AM, and about thirty minutes later, we were at the museum. Since the red bus would not run between 2 and 3 (after all, the driver needed a lunch break too), we decided we would take the 1:30 PM bus back to our hotel. That gave us three hours to explore the exhibits in the museum.

In 1867, the United States purchased Alaska from Russia. In 1912, Alaska became a territory. In 1917, the Alaska Territorial Legislature included a museum in the charter for the University of Alaska. Therefore, the University of Alaska Museum of the North was a part of the university system from the very beginning.

About the Museum…

In 1929, the museum offered its first exhibit, which was a collection of material (ethnographic, archaeological and paleontological) collected by local naturalist Otto Geist along with a small collection of the University’s paintings. The museum grew over the years, and today is the premier repository for artifacts and specimens collected in Alaska, as well as a leader in northern natural and cultural history research.

Note: Click on any photo to see an enlarged version of it and simply click the x to close out of it.

The Building Design

This picture of the building is cropped from a picture taken of a larger wall photo inside the museum.

Entry to the Museum of the North

Front desk with gift shop entrance at right
The three photos that follow were taken of pictures mounted on the wall telling about this project.

From above photo: “Through its architecture, exhibits, research, and educational programs, the expanded University of Alaska Museum of the North demonstrates the Great Land’s unique sense of place. Every person who walks through our doors – university faculty, visiting scientists, students, visitors, members of the Fairbanks community – will be filled with wonder and will come to understand Alaska’s magnificent wonder and brilliant future.”

From above photo: “The design is a composition of four abstract forms. Angled, tipped, and cantilevered, these forms reflect the lines and shapes found in Alaska’s coastlines, mountains, and glaciers. The horizontal layering of these elements is inspired by the plate tectonic forces that are responsible for shaping vast regions of the Alaskan landscape. Curved and sloped roof planes will be visible from every angle and play a critical role in the articulation of form and space.” --Joan Saranno, Architect; --Hammel, Green, and Abrahamson

The Project Cost: $42M

From above photo: “With funding from the State of Alaska, congressional appropriations, federal agencies, corporations, foundations, and hundreds of private donors, the museum’s expansion is a model for public-private partnerships in Alaska.”

Engineering Challenges

From portion of building photo not shown here: “From both design and engineering perspectives, the museums expansion is a complex project.”

Special Exhibits and Collections Galleries

Throughout the year, short-term exhibits are offered.

Me standing under "Expedition Alaska: Dinosaurs" flag near museum entrance
The next three photos are inside of the Dinosaurs exhibit:

The Tundra

Photo of another wall-mounted display
This photo revealing a complex community of plants was mounted next to the previous display.

Colorful tundra mosaic reveals complex community of plants.
Gallery of Alaska  

Exhibits in this gallery focus on Alaska’s five major geographic regions, Western Arctic Coast, Interior, Southwest, Southcentral and Southeast. They are a combination of cultures, wildlife, geography and history of the five regions.

Bonnie, my sister, standing in front of the brown bear that is taller than either of us

Bear and eagle represent the Tlingit (pronounced 'Cling-it'), Southeastern area.

Totems are popular in more than one location.

Columbia Glacier
The Late Pleistocene, and the American Mastadon and Woolly Mammoth

Pleistocene of Alaska
From the right of the above photo, the writing reads: “The Pleistocene Ice Age was marked by the occurrence of vast ice sheets forming in Europe and North America and part of Asia. This ice age began at least 2 million years ago. There were several glacial periods within the Pleistocene, each lasting for thousands of years, the last ending about 10,000 years ago. During each glacial period there was a transfer of ocean water into glacial ice. Consequently, the sea level was lowered worldwide, which exposed the continental shelves.”

“The shelf between Asia and North America formed a land bridge which permitted the migration of plants and animals between the two continents. The area was a flat plain more than 600 miles (1000km) wide north to south. The land bridge and adjacent parts of North America and Asia are called Beringia.”

“More is known about the Wisconsinan glacial period because it is the most recent. It was at its maximum about 18,000 years ago. During this time interior Alaska had a continental climate with exceptionally cool dry summers and cold dry winters. It was mostly unglaciated with large areas of grasslands and tundra but no spruce forests. To the east and south, the Laurentide and Corderillan ice sheets covered millions of square miles and blocked plant and animal migrations southward into temperate North America. Alaska was physically more a part of Asia than North America, and as a result, we share many plant and animal species. The late Wisconsinan is considered important because human expansions into the New World occurred during this time.”

American Mastadon and Woolly Mammoth
Condensed version of writing in the above photo:  During the Pleistocene the American Mastadon ranged from Alaska to Florida and from Southern California to New England. They originated in Africa, and even though it was not as numerous as the Woolly Mammoth in Alaska, it was the most common in the eastern forest areas of North America. They inhabited open spruce woodlands and spruce forests, which were not widespread in the Tanana Valley of Alaska during the Pleistocene. Therefore, Mastadon bones are rarely found in the interior of Alaska.

Woolly Mammoths evolved in northern Eurasia and migrated into North America during the late Pleistocene. They were well adapted to glacial environments and inhabited the northern plains and tundra of the American continent. Fossil remains of these animals are common in the Interior of Alaska. They sometimes measured 14 feet at the shoulders with tusks as long as 13 feet. They evolved from a browsing ancestor similar to elephants and mastadons. Bones of the Woolly Mammoth were proportionately longer and slimmer than those of the mastadon. (Note the highlighted bone of the Woolly Mammoth in the photo above.)

Mastadon and Woolly Mammoth bones with photos in background

Mastadon tooth and Mammoth tooth in a 'please touch' display

I had to look up to photograph this animal displayed on an upper platform.
As we made our way through the museum, I took these two photos on a video that was playing as they showed up on the screen.

Photo of Aurora playing in a video

Photo of Aurora playing in a video
The larger Fairbanks area is home to some of the most famous mushers in Alaska.

As my sister walked through this section, I photographed the dog sled displayed
overhead and the Alaska Native Culture in the glass display cabinets on both sides.

Kayak and long handmade boat on display

Beautiful Dall sheep

Moose head


Polar Bear and Marine animals -- Seal, Sea Lion, and Otter

Skeleton of Caribou -- Caribou outnumber people in Fairbanks,
but I do not remember the ratio.

Arctic Fox -- Remember, click on the photo to see an
 enlarged version and simply click the x to close out of it.

Arctic Fox in display case
Upstairs at the Museum 

Stairway to upper floor. Dinosaur display at entry is in the background.

"Shadow" on display at top of stairway -- Not my shadow, but surely cute!

View through windows from second floor 
The Place Where You Go to Listen 

Fairbanks Composer John Luther Adams, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for music, created this ever-changing sound and light environment in collaboration with scientists from the University's Geophysical Institute, a research institute world famous for its studies of the earth and its skies.

We entered this room pictured on the left, sat on the seating area provided, and listened.
The writing in the above photo says, "In this room, set against a screen washed with colors that change as the sun moves across the sky, you will hear chords that change with the movements of the sun and the moon. These changes in the light and sound are, by nature, slow and subtle.

"Sensors located at sites throughout Alaska pick up seismic activity. Whenever the earth shakes, deep and resonant notes are generated, seeming to shake the room. And, when the aurora is dancing overhead, both in the winter when you can see it and in the summer when you cannot, "aurora bells" announce its presence.

"Everything you experience in the place where you go to listen is driven by real-time conditions in Alaska, all channeled into this room by computers."

I love music and this place where you go to listen fascinated both me and my sister. The following (taken without a flash) is a photo of what was posted on the door of this room. Below the photo is the information written on the poster.

The writing on the above photo says the following:

“The Place Where You Go To Listen

“We are immersed in music

“The earth beneath us, the air around us, and the sky above us are filled with vibrations. Most of these vibrations are beyond the reach of our ears.

“In this room you will hear some of this music

“You will hear no familiar musical instruments or sounds of nature. Yet every sound you hear is connected to the natural world, here and now.

“The atmosphere of sound and light changes with the movements of the sun, the rhythms of the day and night. Daylight sings like a choir of bright voices. Its colors are orange and red. The voices of night are darker. Its colors are violet, blue, and cyan.

“The moon rises and falls, appears and disappears, like a solo voice.

“When the aurora borealis is active (even if hidden by daylight or clouds) bell-like sounds float across the ceiling.

“When the earth quakes (even imperceptibly) the walls and the floor shudder and rumble like deep drums.

“This music has no beginning, middle, or end. Even in moments of apparent stillness, it is always changing. But it changes at the tempo of nature. To experience its full range requires listening in day and night, winter and summer.

“This is an ecosystem of sound and light that resonates with the larger world around it. When no one is here, the forces of nature continue to reverberate within this space.

“But the awareness of the listener brings it to life.

“The place where you go to listen is not complete until you are present and listening.”

--John Luther Adams

This room was amazing! Listening to the sounds within, especially hearing the bells for the aurora borealis, and having an awareness that this atmosphere of sound and light represents the forces of nature in an ecosystem that resonates with the larger world around it was phenomenal!

Other Things to See and Do at the Museum of the North 

The Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery was also on the second floor. For an additional charge, people could purchase movie passes to see 30-minute movies throughout the day in the Arnold Espe Auditorium. There was a café on the main floor and also outdoor exhibits.

The Museum of the North was certainly a great choice, hands down, to spend our free day learning more about Alaska!

Soon, we will embark on the land portion of our Alaskan Adventure. We will see an insider's perspective on some of the most fascinating people and places of the Last Frontier (Alaska's nickname).

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