Friday, June 12, 2009

The "Gold" Exhibit Dazzled Us

Nunivak Stone HeadAndrew has lived in Anchorage for 13 years now and last month he told me he'd never been to the museum. I thought that needed fixing so we took the kids to the grand opening of the new wing and to see the new exhibit, "Gold," which happens to be one of the 10 most popular traveling exhibits in the world.

Growing up in Anchorage, I've been to the Anchorage Museum many times (we even had Junior Prom there) and while I love the Sydney Lawrence and Machentanz oils my favorite piece in the entire place is this stone head you see here.

Nunivak Stone HeadA little bigger than a human head it sits quietly on a plinth (I love that word but when does one get to use it??) just as it sat quietly on a wind-swept hill on Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea for hundreds of years before it was discovered in 1986. Tribal elders found it just as you see in the picture at left, covered with lichen and on top of a dirt pile containing whale vertebrae.

There are legends in the villages that similar heads were used as juggling balls for the gods and they think the head has been there for at least 200 years though they have no idea how old it really is, claiming the carving is "pre-historic." Because it was so valuable the elders gave it to the Museum for safe keeping.

Every time I see the head and the picture of it sitting there on the hill I get a little thrill of archeological excitement and my inner Indiana Jones comes out. I don't know that I've seen anything that old before--even dinosaur bones aren't the real thing but usually casts of the originals--and the expression on the face has such a serene yet wise look to it. I'm not usually a fan of Native art but this piece speaks to me.

Anyway, the new wing is wonderful and the exhibit was spectacular, really spectacular. Anchorage doesn't usually get such top-quality shows here and this was a real treat to see the same exhibit that toured in Tokyo. With over 300 gold objects it took my breath away--gold crystals, gold nuggets, a room in gold leaf, gold artifacts from around the world, gold coins from nearly every time period and of course gold bars.

I had the pleasure of a lunch date with Sarah Henning, Public Relations coordinator for the Anchorage Museum, and of course I had to ask her if she could spill any details as to what the pieces were worth (most information listed the value of the pieces at the time they were discovered or assayed and I figured they kept that info under wraps for security purposes). The only information she would give me was that the fabulous gold ingot from a London bank was currently valued at over $17 million (I hope I'm getting the details right, I wasn't taking notes and wanted to choke on my salad when I heard).

Gold Exhibit at Anchorage Museum at RasmussenGold doubloons recovered from Spanish galleons, a replica of the Apollo 13 space helmet with its gold visor, Inca ceremonial pieces, Cartier necklaces--even Buddy Holly's gold album, Harrison Ford's Oscar for lifetime achievement and Susan Sarandon's Oscar for Dead Man Walking were on display.

They said that 98% of the gold that has been found in the entire history of our planet has been found since 1848--and with all of that there would only be enough to fill 19 semi trucks. Gold is so common nowadays--and by that I mean that we commoners are allowed to own it and have it for jewelry--that I think it's easy to forget how unusual and valuable it really is. A little trip to the exhibit will cure that.

So if you have a chance to see it either in Anchorage or when it comes to your neck of the woods I'd definitely recommend it. There were also some fun science-based presentations and hands-on stations for the kids which reminds me--apparently now that the Anchorage Museum has hit the Big Time and can finally hold its own as one of the "great circumpolar museums" we're going to be seeing some more great traveling exhibits. Ms. Henning gave me all the scoop on future shows including a Star Wars exhibit coming next spring which will not only have props and costumes from the movies but will focus on science v. science fiction from the movie.

You know we'll be there.

I'll close with this clip I took of some of the celebrations for the grand opening because I thought you might find the Native Alaskan dancers interesting--I could be off but I think these particular performers represent people from the Aleutian islands, judging from their costumes.

Sponsored by Dimples and Dandelions with the Serena and Lily Bedding Collection for children.


Lucy said...

I LOVED this post! I'm so interested in things like that. The human head? Didn't see it, didn't see it, didn't see it....and then it popped out at me. Almost startled me. I'd love to know more about that. I'm off to Mr. Google. I'd love to fly up and see it.

Carina said...

You're right, that head is fascinating. I love the idea that there are still hundreds or even thousands of treasures out there that will be discovered someday. Or never.

Fiauna said...

That head is amazing! I hope this exhibit travels to my neck of the woods.

CountessLaurie said...

Wow, what a great exhibit! I love the head. I can imagine walking along and then poof, that guy is staring at me.

I was lucky enough to see the Star Wars exhibit in Boston (if it's the same one). The costumes were great! And tiny! Those actors were skinny!!

Thanks for sharing!

jubilee said...

That is so interesting. And you are right, I think we sometimes take gold for granted.

Heart2Heart said...


Isn't it amazing just how many things sit virtually unvisited in our own home towns? We have made it our plan while we are still living here, to visit things we have never seen before. We finally made it to our Discovery Science Center and had a blast since we went during a school day and after all the field trips went home for the day.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Leisa Hammett said...

I loved reading about and looking the prehistoric head. Reminds me of the work of one of my favorite artists here in Tennessee, Charles Brindley. I could not find an example of such to link here, however.

Anonymous said...

Great Post!! Plinth is a great word, unless you lithp. MomM

Jodi said...

Wow - sounds like you all learned a lot --- and to know that a chunk of gold is worth like 17 MILLION??? I think I'd be selling that baby.

Laurel Nelson said...

I went to the new museum grand opening when they had it for free the whole day, but the gold exhibit had given away all their tickets for the day. I was sad...I still would like to see it though.

Farmington, Utah said...

That's an awesome stone head. I don't know what it is about it that is so interesting but it has a certain mystical intrigue to it. That'd be such an exciting find too if you were out hiking. I wonder what sort of stuff is out in the foothills...

Cheri said...

Wow, thanks so much for sharing this. I love that head! How fascinating and I do hope the gold exhibit comes to Seattle, I would love to see it.

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