Staff at the Peabody Museum sorround the kayak. Via the Alutiiq Museum and Archaelogical Repository
A rare kayak will be sailing into Kodiak – sealed and crated securely on a barge – thanks to a grant the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository just received.
Right now, the kayak is in Massachusetts at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the two groups will work together to transfer the object.
Marnie Leist is Curator of Collections and says they know the kayak is from the Gulf of Alaska due to its prow.
“This one has basically, literally two pieces of wood in which there is a split, and this helped with speed and breaking the waves. You know, this is a very wavy, stormy environment, and that prow style helped Alutiiq paddlers cut through the waves.”
She says kayaks in different areas of Alaska historically have unique characteristics.
“For example, in some of the Bering regions, they have a hole in the front of theirs, but that’s so they could tie things to the front of their kayak, like their catch or their harvest.”
She says this artifact is also special because it’s a one-man kayak.
“When the Russians came, life changed. Instead of the hunter having his kayak, it suddenly became a three-man kayak with the Russian in the middle, so this is that pre-contact, warrior-style kayak,” says Leist. “You know, a strong hunter would have had this, and it still has its skin, which is also very rare.”
Director of research and publication, Amy Steffian, says many boats in museum collections no longer have that fragile sea lion or seal skin cover. And while kayaks themselves are historic boats, they’re not buried so far in the past.
“We have wonderful stories from Alutiiq elders who remember as children being transported inside the kayaks,” says Steffian. “So, dad might paddle and the children might be lying under the deck and looking through the somewhat transparent skin and seeing the water just outside. These boats were what we think of today as our cars. You drive to the grocery store, you drive home to work. This is what Alutiiq people used.”
Steffian says the grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services will provide the museum with just under $50,000 to cover the kayak’s shipping and installation.
“Part of the granting process was not only to figure out the storage of the boat and how we were gonna ship it, but also to figure out how we were gonna display it,” says Steffian. “So, we looked in our collections for items that could be shown from our own holdings – paddles, bailers, other kayaking gear that could be shown in partnership with the boat – so that we could demonstrate not only kayak technology, but maritime tradition.”
Steffian says there’s still a lot of work to do, and the kayak hasn’t left Massachusetts yet, but she says it should be installed by April, and will debut later this spring.