Naknek celebrated the grand opening of its new museum last Saturday. The museum showcases artifacts from the Bristol Bay fishing industry and traditional culture. The Bristol Bay Historical Society hopes the museum will give local tourism a boost and connect residents to the region’s history through objects.
The new museum is housed in an historic building across from the library in downtown Naknek.
LaRece Egli is a Naknek artist who led efforts to set up the collection. She says the building has come a long way.
“Three weeks ago the floor wasn’t yet finished, the walls were dirty, none of the artifacts had been moved in and cleaned, the cases were still sitting in crates in Anchorage… so it’s been a complete transformation.”
The items in the collection mostly came from the old Naknek museum, which was closed for years. There are model sailing schooners, cedar corks, old cannery equipment, and a hand-sewn fur parka.
With help from Anchorage Museum conservationists and local volunteers, Egli spent many hours moving, cleaning and installing these artifacts.
She says this painstaking work was all worth it to hear the stories people have about the objects in the collection.
“I mean, even that coffee can sitting right over there that we’re accepting donations in… in the last 24 hours I’ve heard 2 stories about how those cans were valued because they’re square, I guess they were coveted for berry picking because they could be mounted onto a frame of a backpack easily.. And that’s just a coffee can!”
Among the visitors on opening day was Tim Troll, who wrote a book about the sailing days of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. Troll says he was amazed by one item in particular – a gear list from an old cannery.
“It’s a board that has sailboat numbers from 1 to 37 along the vertical, and along the horizontal it has gear, like your stove, your tent, your water beaker… so that every fisherman they checked off their particular gear for the fishing boat, and then the cannery sent them out there,” says Troll.” I’d never seen anything like that. You know, it gives you a real feel for those guys out there…. That really does tell the story right there, once you understand what it is.”
The museum’s collection will continue to grow. Bristol Bay Historical Society President Fred Anderson says the Society is planning outbuildings to showcase old planes and vessels.
“We have a growing collection of wooden boats, all the way from a sailboat conversation, up to the last wooden boat made before they went to fiberglass,” says Anderson. “it’ll be very nice and interesting.
In the coming weeks, the Historical Society will hammer out the details of running the new museum. They’ll set regular hours, charge admission, and open a coffee shop next door.
They expect the fundraising, and the story gathering, will be ongoing indefinitely.