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Sheldon Jackson Museum June 2021 Artifacts of the Month are Two Tlingit Model Canoes

by LAM Webmaster on 2021-06-11T14:53:00-08:00 in Artifact of the Month, Museums, Sheldon Jackson Museum | 0 Comments

For Immediate Release
June 9, 2021

Laine Rinehart getting set up at the museum.The Sheldon Jackson Museum June Artifacts of the Month are two Tlingit model canoes (SJ-I-A-866 and SJ-I-A-769). D. Wilson Moore collected the longer canoe and the Reverend Sheldon Jackson collected the shorter canoe. The strikingly similar canoes, along with a third artifact, a grease bowl, suggest a possible connection between Moore, Jackson, and John Muir, and present us with an unsolved mystery.

Both model canoes appear to be made by the same hand. The formline designs share many similarities – especially in the ovoid, u-form, circle, and trigon shapes embellishing the open-mouthed animal (perhaps a wolf) on the bow and stern. Both models have thick black outlines along the top rim of the hull, red cross-hatching, and replication of triangular patterns. In the Moore model, the triangular shapes appear on each side of a central black line on the hull walls near the rim. The Jackson model features two rows of similar triangles, one in red and the other in blue, on the hull walls near the rim.

The museum purchased the Moore model and three other artifacts from the Fuller Theological Seminary in 2001. D. Wilson’s great grandson Paul Gaebelein was a professor at Fuller and gave them to the seminary to financially benefit the school’s D.W. Moore Chair of Biblical Studies position. A trustee noticed cursive writing on the base of one of the artifacts, a grease bowl in the form of a puffin, that read “Alaska 1879 D. Wilson Moore Trip taken with Sheldon Jackson and John Muir and D.W.M. Jr.” The trustee contacted the Sheldon Jackson Museum to ask if then-curator Peter Corey had interest in the artifacts for the museum's collections. Corey began negotiations in earnest, and the State of Alaska, which operates the Sheldon Jackson Museum, purchased them two months later.

Peter Corey located several obituaries for Moore and learned that he had been an active member of the Presbyterian Church and Director of the Y.M.C.A. in Clayton, New Jersey. Corey contacted archivists at the main headquarters for the Presbyterian Church of the United States and scoured John Muir’s writings and Sheldon Jackson’s correspondence and photographs for references to Moore. Unfortunately, he was unable to find any records on the man who collected the model canoe or any additional details about his life, except that he was a principal partner in Moore Brothers Glassworks, a company that produced mason jars.

Although the museum still lacks evidence that Moore befriended or traveled with Muir and Jackson, we are left with the mysterious writing on the bottom of the puffin bowl and the  coincidence that Moore and Jackson acquired model canoes that look very alike. Did the same Tlingit man carve and paint both model canoes? If so, did Moore and Jackson purchase the models at the same time, from the same individual, in the same place? We may never know with any certainty.

Models like the two June artifacts of the month were traditionally made for children. After the arrival of Euro-Americans to Alaska, model canoes became important collectors’ items and were sold in the curio trade. Tourists coming to Alaska via steamship in the late 19th century purchased them and brought them home.

The Sheldon Jackson Museum has seventeen Tlingit model canoes and a full-sized Tlingit dugout canoe in the permanent collection. You can check them out Wednesday through Sunday, 9 am-4 pm. General admission is $9, $8 for seniors, and free for those 18 and under or members of either the Friends of the Sheldon Jackson Museum or Friends of the Alaska State Museum.

Media Contact:

Patience Frederiksen
Director, Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums

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