Alaska Department of Education & Early Development
Alaska State Libraries, Archives & Museums
The Sheldon Jackson Museum’s November Artifact of the Month is a Tsimshian cedar bark basket in the form of a bag (SJ-I-C-17). The basket was donated to the museum in 1983 by a very well-known woman in Sitka and avid supporter of the Sheldon Jackson Museum, Isabel Miller.
The cedar bark basket is in the form of “shopping bag” and has an intricate design. The bottom of the bag is plaited; the sides, open twined. There are two matching central design bands running around the basket. The bands have pairs of alternating sets of diagonal bars in dyed green and bleached grass. The bars in the top design band slope in the opposite direction of the bars in the lower band. The handles are commercial twine handles wrapped with cedar bark. Neither the maker of this lovely basket, nor the place in which Miss Isabel Miller collected it are known.
Isabel Miller was instrumental in the founding of the museum that is today known as the Sitka History Museum. She was an active board member of the museum’s board of directors, an organization that referred to itself as the Sitka Historical Society. She served as volunteer curator of the museum and had such a major impact that it was named after her and for a time, known as the Isabel Miller Museum. Prior to coming to the museum, Miller had studied history at the University of Indiana and taught the subject for a time before going on to study to be a social worker. After retiring from her profession in 1975 at age seventy, Miller relocated to Sitka, and focused on founding the museum.
In the accession file for the cedar bark “shopping bag” is a carbon copy of a typed letter dated January 28, 1983, written by former Sheldon Jackson Museum “Director/Curator” Peter Corey.
In the letter, Corey thanks Ms. Miller “again” for her “continued support of the Sheldon Jackson Museum.” “Your most recent gift of baskets helps to fill in some gaps in our collection,” wrote Corey, before politely declining the generous donor’s offer to give the museum two Papago basket.
The Sheldon Jackson Museum’s November Artifact of the Month will be on exhibit until November 30th. This cedar bark bag along with forty other examples of Tsimshian basketry may be seen at the museum Tuesday through Saturday between 10am and noon and 1pm and 4pm. General admission is $6, $5 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.
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