AAA member William Fitzhugh (Smithsonian Institute) received a National Science Foundation grant for his project Yuungnaqpiallerput (The Way We Genuinely Live): Masterworks of Yup’ik Science and Survival. The exhibit was curated by Ann Fienup-Riordan and opened at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History on April 17. The exhibition offers a distinct opportunity for public education, museum collection documentation, and community engagement in science, anthropology, language revitalization and cultural heritage. Objects include remarkable 19th– and early 20th-century tools, containers, weapons, watercraft and clothing whose designs reveal intimate understanding of the scientific principles and processes that helped Yup’ik people survive for thousands of years along Alaska’s Bering Sea coast. The exhibit brings hundreds of Yup’ik objects from museums around the world to the Smithsonian, where Edward W. Nelson pioneered Yup’ik studies through his 1877-81 Alaskan fieldwork and his classic publication, The Eskimo about Bering Strait (Nelson 1899).
The project utilizes workshop sessions to combine information obtained from Yup’ik elders, data from Nelson’s recently discovered Alaskan diaries, and Smithsonian curatorial and conservation expertise. Participants will utilize reference collections and analytical facilities to shed light on aspects of Yup’ik science such as the selection of raw materials based on strength, resilience, hardness, insulation, wind or water permeability, lightness and mechanical properties, as well as aesthetics and spiritual compatibility. In collaboration with conservators, curators and scientists, Yup’ik consultants will develop protocols for object documentation and long-term preservation and care that are both scientifically sound and culturally appropriate for the storage and educational use of museum collections. In addition, the project educates visitors about the importance of museum collections and Native knowledge by presenting gallery demonstrations, film programs, and children’s activities. The exhibit closes on July 25, 2010.