Ger­man mu­seum re­turns art to indige­nous Alaskans

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS -

BER­LIN » A Ber­lin mu­seum has re­turned an­cient wooden masks, an idol and other spir­i­tu­ally sig­nif­i­cant ar­ti­facts plun­dered from graves by an ex­plorer to indige­nous Alaskans, end­ing an odyssey in which many of the items were thought for­ever lost.

The masks, carved from spruce or hem­lock, are daubed with red pig­ment — a tra­di­tional tinc­ture made of seal oil, hu­man blood and pow­der from a stone that in­di­cate they were used in burial cer­e­monies by tribes in the Chugach area of Alaska.

One mask comes to a sharp point at the top, sym­bol­iz­ing the de­ceased’s tran­si­tion to the spirit world. An­other shows a face with one eye open and the other closed.

Their ex­act age hasn’t been de­ter­mined, but they’re thought to be up to 1,000 years old. They were taken from graves in caves on Chenega Is­land in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and a place known as San­radna, whose ex­act lo­ca­tion is no longer known, said John John­son, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Chugach Alaska Cor­po­ra­tion. The group to­day rep­re­sents the re­gion’s indige­nous peo­ple.

“They’re a con­nec­tion be­tween the dead and the liv­ing, the future and the past,” he said Wed­nes­day. “If you look, one eye open, one eye shut, it’s like trav­el­ing be­tween two worlds.”

The nine ar­ti­facts were among some 200 Chugach items col­lected for Ger­many’s Royal Mu­seum of Eth­nol­ogy by Nor­we­gian ad­ven­turer Jo­han Adrian Ja­cob­sen be­tween 1882 and 1884.

Sev­eral were thought lost at the end of World War II after be­ing looted from the mu­seum by Soviet Red Army troops, but they resur­faced in St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia. They were then given to a mu­seum in Leipzig in com­mu­nist East Ger­many in the 1970s.

Ber­lin’s Eth­no­log­i­cal Mu­seum only learned in the 1980s that they had sur­vived and even­tu­ally se­cured their re­turn.

John­son learned of their ex­is­tence from Ja­cob­sen’s jour­nals, where the

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.