The new museum will have five permanent exhibits reflecting the important eras in Sitka's history, and a sixth, temporary exhibit for the seldom-seen objects in the collection. (Image/HealyKohler Design)

The new museum will have five permanent exhibits reflecting the important eras in Sitka’s history, and a sixth, temporary exhibit for the seldom-seen objects in the collection. (Image/HealyKohler Design)

While Sitka’s Harrigan Centennial Hall has undergone extensive renovations over the past 18 months, curators have been busy renovating the collection of the Sitka History Museum.

Officially known as “a collections audit,” the process involves digitally cataloging the most important objects in collection making them searchable both in Sitka and online. But it also involves getting rid of a few things.

Curator of Collections Kristy Griffin recently told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce (11-2-16) that she and her staff had added over 6,000 new entries to the database, and “deaccessioned” about 250 objects that really don’t make sense.

“At some point or another, we accessioned a mechanical pencil into the permanent collection. We don’t know who owned it, what it was used for, what it’s significance might be. It might have fallen into a box of donations — and we just accidentally accessioned it! (Laughs) But we can’t continue to spend money to take care of this and staff time to research or document it, in exchange for something else that might be really, really important for us to have in the collection.”

The Sitka History Museum will move into new quarters in Harrigan Centennial Hall. There is a $680,000 campaign underway to install state-of-the-art exhibits exploring Sitka’s Tlingit, Russian, and American past. There will also be space for temporary displays, since most of the museum’s collection rarely sees the light of day.

“The biggest of the museums at any point in time only have 5-percent or less of their collections on the floor. So you’re never seeing even a fraction of what museums have. And we’re really no different in that regard. Because you really don’t want museum objects on the floor that long. Exposure to light, different environmental conditions — it all breaks it down. So you’re in this constant struggle of balancing preservation with education. Because you don’t want to have collections items that you just squirrel away and nobody can learn anything from it, and nobody can ever see it. But you also don’t want to take something at put it out for so long that it becomes faded, deteriorated, breaks down, and it’s no good for anybody anymore.”

The plans for thsitkahistorymuseum_floor_plane new museum space have been drafted by HealyKohler Design, which has assembled major exhibits for the Library of Congress and the Washington Monument. Griffin hopes for a grand opening a year from now, in conjunction with the 150th Anniversary of the transfer of Alaska to the United States — an event which we know a great deal about, thanks to something housed in the Sitka History Museum.

“I really like the one-off things. The kinds of things that are so special you’re not going to see them anywhere else. That’s what intrigues me. So when we’re talking about that I get really excited about things you already know about: The Ossipee Journal — that’s a firsthand account of the transfer ceremony. And there’s a few of them out there, but it’s pretty special to have one of the half-dozen that exist sitting in our museum.”

The Ossipee was under the command of George Foster Emmons, who also explored Antarctica, and would one day become a rear admiral in the US Navy.

The Sitka History Museum is about halfway toward its fundraising goal. Learn more about the 2017 capital campaign.