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A View from the Arctic

by Andrea Rosen, BCMA Curatorial Assistant

At noon on a surprisingly cold Tuesday in late March, we were treated to the second in a series of three gallery talks titled “Multiple Perspectives in The Object Show: Discoveries in Bowdoin Collections” (read more about the first talk here). Susan Kaplan, professor of anthropology and director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, presented some of the objects her museum lent to the exhibition that have been to the Arctic and back again. These objects offer us a perspective on the lives of Inuit men and women, as well as that of the American explorer Donald MacMillan, who started a career at Bowdoin that took him nearly all the way to the North Pole.

One such object was a letter sent to MacMillan by an unknown sender who left instructions only to open the letter when all had gone “dead wrong.” MacMillan took it on many of his journeys but never had reason to open it. It is now encased in a clear plastic block and its contents and sender remain an intriguing mystery – Professor Kaplan respects MacMillan’s intention to keep it sealed.

Another was an early movie camera designed by famed taxidermist Carl Akeley. This Akeley camera was compact and durable enough for MacMillan to bring it with him to the Arctic Circle. Also on view is a film he shot with that very camera, the first footage of muskox in the wild.

The final object was an exciting hybrid: an amouti or parka created by Inuit seamstress Lucy Ittinuar in the 1970s. This type of parka has an enlarged pouch at the back so that a mother may keep her baby close and warm. Ittinuar used this traditional Inuit form but employed a mix of modern and traditional materials, including commercially-available fabrics and trims, hand-woven belts, dog or wolf fur, Canadian dimes, and lead fishing weights.  Professor Kaplan explained that every element of the design has significance: for example, the shapes of the hood and the front hem signify a specific geographic region, whereas the patterns on the belly of the parka symbolize fertility.

The third and final gallery talk in this series will take place on April 17, 2014, at noon, and will feature Susan Wegner, associate professor of art history, and Nathaniel Wheelwright, professor of natural sciences, plus a few feathered friends!

Photo Mar 25, 12 05 24 PMPhoto Mar 25, 12 05 46 PM (1)Photo Mar 25, 12 07 01 PMPhoto Mar 25, 12 08 39 PMPhoto Mar 25, 12 17 25 PMPhoto Mar 25, 12 17 34 PMPhoto Mar 25, 12 18 30 PM

Sealed Envelope to MacMillan–“To be Opened When [all has] Gone Dead Wrong.” paper in Lucite. Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum; Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

Sealed Envelope to MacMillan–“To be Opened When [all has] Gone Dead Wrong.” paper in Lucite. Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum; Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

Photo Mar 26, 10 21 08 AM

Donald B. MacMillan, American, 1874–1970.
Hunting Muskox.
Digital footage, copied from 35 mm film.
Carl Akeley, American, 1864–1926.
Motion Picture Camera used on Crocker Land Trip.
Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum; Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan.

Lucy Ittinuar, Inuit, born 1929. Amouti, ca. 1975. cotton, wool, fur, beads, coins, lead weights. Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum; Museum Purchase, Janet and Russell Doubleday Endowment.

Lucy Ittinuar, Inuit, born 1929.
Amouti, ca. 1975.
cotton, wool, fur, beads, coins, lead weights.
Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum; Museum Purchase, Janet and Russell Doubleday Endowment.