Opinions expressed in commentaries on KCAW are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the station’s board, staff, or volunteers.

My name is Rosemary Carlton. I have lived in Sitka since 1969. I have been an elementary school teacher, preschool teacher, a Park Interpreter at Sitka National Historical Park, an Interpretive Specialist and Curator at the Sheldon Jackson Museum and am currently on the Board of the Friends of Sheldon Jackson Museum.

Until recently I’ve never considered myself a “passionate” person, someone who jumps into a fray and stands by it at all costs; I’ve supported many causes and ideas, but until I heard of the proposed sale of the Sheldon Jackson Museum, my support has been more platonic. Now, I have become a passionate person. Throughout my life I have worked in education as a professional and as a volunteer. In 1969, the Sheldon Jackson Museum was on the new teachers’ tour of  Sitka. When I first walked into the building as a newly minted fifth-grade teacher my mind immediately said “field trip.” The collection was beyond anything I expected to see in a small town on an island in Alaska. In those days there wasn’t a full-time and field trips were elusive. 

Note: Members of the House Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed operating budget, 2 – 5 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at Harrigan Centennial Hall in Sitka. The full committee will take testimony again, 7:30 – 8 pm Tuesday, March 26. Sitka residents can sign up to testify beginning at 7 p.m. at the Sitka Legislative Information Office in Totem Square.

In the late 70s full time professionals and Volunteers in Mission from Sheldon Jackson College cared for the collection. It became easier to take out of state visitors and my kids to see this hidden treasure. We all loved — as everyone does — pulling open the drawers to find more amazing artifacts. Later, I worked at Sitka National Historical Park and collaborated with then-curator Peter Corey concerning loans between the two institutions.  Pete shared his knowledge about the cultures of Alaska that are represented in the museum and was instrumental in opening my eyes to the world-wide importance of the Sheldon Jackson Museum collection.  It represents the cultural and material heritage of all of Alaska’s Native people.  The museum is the “storage place for these artifacts…but they are owned by the people of Alaska.” 

When I was hired by the state to work at the museum in 1985 as the interpretive specialist, I was delighted, and scared –“What am I doing trying to tell the stories that belong with these artifacts and the people who made them.”  It was from that thought that theNative Artist Residency Program was created. Native artists from around the state and locally not only talk with students and visitors, but also learn “from the best specimens of the old works….” And of course, there is the invaluable flow of information from artists and elders shared with the staff and other up and coming artists. I was fortunate to work with people like Irene Jimmy, Teri Rofkar, Jan Criswell – all of whom helped revitalize Chilkat, Ravens Tail, and spruce root weaving. Silver carver Dave Galanin demonstrated in the gallery, along with Yupik culture bearer Chuna MacIntyre. Athabaskan elder Howard Luke guided conservators through the repair of one of the museum’s birch bark canoes.  More than 70 artists have taken part in this program.  Many others have shared the stories of their cultures and arts through exhibit assistance, presentations, and working with students.

The building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Sheldon Jackson College National Historic Landmark District.  In my opinion, this invaluable collection should remain in Alaska and forever have its doors open as an educational institution held in the public trust and as a caretaker of Alaska’s history. I strongly oppose Gov. Dunleavy’s plans to sell it, or even close it.