After spending the last 7-and-a-half years in Washington, D.C., I’m making my way across the country to Haines, Alaska to intern at the Hammer Museum for the summer. I have never been to Alaska, but I’ve wanted to go for a long time, and to be honest, I really like hand tools. I guess spending most days with a sledgehammer at my last job gave me a new-found appreciation for a device that’s designed simply to hit things. There’s a lot of beauty in simplicity.
I should also add that I’m working towards my MA in Museum Studies at the George Washington University (GW for those of us who like our acronyms), so this blog is not only a personal account of this journey, but something I need to complete for credit. But I like to write, so it’s a win-win.
So. Here we go.
Currently, I work at a used bookstore processing book donations, so it was fitting when I ran across a copy of this book today. It’s an account of life in Haines told from the woman who writes the obituaries for the town’s local Chilkat Valley News. I’m only 30 pages into it, but it’s already got me excited. As someone with a passing interest in anthropology, I love people’s stories, and it seems like people in rural Alaska have particularly amazing ones–I received my internship packet today, and reading through the biographies of the folks who run the Hammer Museum made my life look bleak by comparison. For example, Dave, the museum’s founder, is a longshoreman (I had to ask what that was during my interview, as I grew up in the land-locked suburbs of Phoenix and the not land-locked but certainly not fisherman-driven suburbs of Philadelphia) and won his original land in Haines in a state land lottery in the 1970s. His own collection is what started the museum, and he purchased and refurbished an old building to house the objects. Another man has over 40 years of experience as a plumber and electrician. One guy was a kayak guide, and one owns his own tour company.
Haines sounds like a completely different world from Washington, DC, and while YES, the Smithsonian is a great resource (said everyone to me ever), I’ve had three Smithsonian intern/volunteerships, so it’ll be informative to see the world of museums from a different angle. The Hammer Museum gets about 3,700 visitors a year–note that that’s about 1,200 more people than actually live in the town, and most of them are cruise visitors. The museum’s collection sits inside a 1,120 square-foot house, and it’s staffed by all volunteers and two summer interns. It sounds like the interns run the whole show during the busy season, so I’ll certainly be getting a first-hand look at the daily operations of a small museum.
Oh yeah, did I mention that Haines is a cruise port, and that it looks like this? Sure, it’s not all about the looks, but I can’t lie, it helped my decision quite a bit.
My flight takes off on May 12th, and after spending a few days in Phoenix to adjust to a closer time zone and assure my parents that I haven’t gone completely crazy, I’ll be flying up to Juneau and taking a ferry from there. T minus one month and counting!
See? I’m not totally new to this hammering thing. Taken at the Ren Faire in 2011.