The Legacy Continues

After an exhibit is installed, one might think that the work of the guest curator is done. More often than not, this isn’t the case. The curator will continue to work with the museum’s education and public programs staff to assist with elements being developed for school kits, Family Day activities, and even possible special events like lectures, book signings, or any other ideas they might come up with.

I’m doing a bit of that right now, but what is truly captivating me and illustrates the continuing story that we’ve highlighted in Denali Legacy is the Denali 2013 Centennial Climb. As I sit in the climate-controlled comfort of my office at the Museum, a group of descendants of the 1913 team are hauling gear along Muldrow Glacier, following in the footsteps of their forebears.

A week and a half ago, I had the privilege of taking Robert Tatum’s handmade flag to the ARAMARK McKinley Chalet Resort, to be part of the send-off celebration that was taking place on June 4.

Traveling with Robert Tatum's 1913 flag.

Traveling with Robert Tatum’s 1913 flag.

The flag was temporarily removed from our exhibit walls, packed safely in my rental car, and driven two hours to the Denali Park area.

Bishop Mark Lattime speaks to visitors while Robert Tatum's 1913 flag rests on the model of Denali.

Bishop Mark Lattime speaks to visitors while Robert Tatum’s 1913 flag rests on the model of Denali and Hudson Stuck’s eucharist set is readied for communion.

There, it was shared with visitors and the Centennial Climb team, who received communion and a blessing from the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Alaska, the Right Reverend Mark Lattime. The Bishop admitted with regret that he would not be joining the climb team as he had originally planned, but would instead assume a similar role as Bishop Rowe from 1913, offering support from Fairbanks along with many others. The ceremony, which happened in the lobby of the McKinley Chalet Resort, was thought-provoking and touching, and I was honored to be in the audience. The short meet-and-greet after, allowed for an intimate Q&A period with these inspiring young men, as they shared their hopes and concerns for the events of the next month.

Denali 2013 Centennial Climb team, from left: Ken Karstens, Ray Schuenemann, Sam Tatum, Bishop Lattime, Dana Wright, and Dan Hopkins.

Denali 2013 Centennial Climb team, from left: Ken Karstens, Ray Schuenemann, Sam Tatum (holding his great grand-uncle’s flag), Bishop Lattime, Dana Wright, and Dan Hopkins (not pictured, Sam Alexander).

I think I can say that all of us felt the love and trust this group of men share, as they embark on this grand adventure, spearheaded and pushed through by Ken Karstens, great-grandson of Harry Karstens. As they make their way up the Muldrow Glacier route, one hundred years after their ancestors, there are a core group of family members and followers wishing them well, thinking about how proud those men of 1913 would be.

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Ascent Day – June 7, 1913

It was one o’clock when we got to the top. I was ahead all day and was the first ever to set foot on Mt. Denali.  – Walter Harper


June 7, 2013: THE FIRST ASCENT – One hundred years ago, Walter Harper, an Athabascan man from Interior Alaska, was the first person to stand on top of Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. He was joined by his teammates, Harry Karstens, Robert Tatum, and Hudson SAscent 23tuck.

I had made a flag and raised it. First of all after we all shook hands with congratulations, Arch deacon offered a prayer of thanks.  Then the instruments were read and I raised the flag and Arch d photographed it.  – Robert Tatum

These photos from Stuck’s Book “Ascent of Denali” are featured in our exhibit, Denali Legacy: 100 Years on the Mountain.Ascention Day

if it w[h]ere not the final climb I should have stayed in camp but being the final climb & such a promising day I managed to pull through I put Walter in lead an kept him there all day with never a change. – Harry Karstens

Also on display are the only remaining pick ax of the four constructed in Fairbanks for the climb (right), the flag made of bits of materials along the trail (above), the original climbing journals, and a thermometer used to record the minimum temperatures on the mountain.

I had no sensation in my feet at all until nearly noon: and even my lynx mitts could not keep my hands warm.  – Hudson Stuck

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We’re Open!


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The Final Push

Putting the finishing touches on our special exhibit.

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Team Efforts

Most people have no idea how museums put exhibits together. At UAMN, we’ve developed a process that, while slightly different with each exhibit, follows a basic structure of using a guest curator (myself, in the case of Denali Legacyalong with a curation team. The curator develops the initial idea and shapes the narrative, while the team provides expertise in their various areas, including digital media (Roger Topp), communications, editing, and interviewing (Theresa Bakker), graphic and exhibit design (Tamara Martz), and exhibit production & fabrication (Steve Bouta). The hands-on and  interactive elements are developed and refined by our Education Department staff (Jen Arseneau and Maite Agopian).

Our version of storyboarding.

Our version of storyboarding.

The team efforts put forward on Denali Legacy echoes the team efforts put forward in the 1913 expedition of the Stuck-Karstens expedition. No one person should have received the credit for accomplishing that dramatic task, and likewise, no one person is responsible for the success of this engaging exhibition. I’ve felt incredible support for ideas I’ve put forward and the creativity of the team is showcased in many different products.

Roger Topp, Head of Production, digital media guru.

Roger Topp, Head of Production, digital media guru.

Roger Topp, our Head of Production, came up with idea and look of the Denali mountain model and the projection of 100 years of climbing routes. In addition, he crunched the numbers and worked out the animation for the routes, which will be a cool interactive. He has managed the project and kept us all on task and on time – not an easy feat!

Theresa Bakker, editing sound for the audio diaries.

Theresa Bakker, editing sound for the audio diaries.

Theresa Bakker, the Media Coordinator for the Museum, is also a former public radio person and has incredible interviewing skills. She has created a great social media presence through our Facebook posts, developing this blog, and managing the “Share the View” photo campaign. Her interviewing and sound editing are highlighted in both the documentary that she and Roger produced, and the audio diary components of the exhibit. She is also an excellent writer and has helped us keep the narrative and interpretive panels concise while communicating the personalities of each of member of the climbing expedition.

Steve Bouta, working on the platform for the panoramic photo opp.

Steve Bouta, working on the platform for the panoramic photo opp.

The exhibits department is headed up by Steve Bouta, our Coordinator of Exhibits and preparator extraordinare – and longest-time employee of the museum. His keen eye, excellent editing skills, straightforward communication style, and ability to work any tool in the shop translates into quality exhibits time and time again.

Tamara Martz, working her creative magic on a map of the 1913 expedition.

Tamara Martz, working her creative magic on a map of the 1913 expedition.

The task of figuring out the look of the exhibit falls on the capable and creative shoulders of Tamara Martz. Our resident kiwi who has come a long way from making our brass mounts for the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery back in 2005, Tamara met the difficult challenge of presenting an exhibition with a lot of text. From the creative designs and beautiful color palette, Tamara makes this exhibit more than just the words on the page – she’s made it accessible.

Maïté Agopian and Jen Arseneau working on the interactive elements of the exhibit.

Maïté Agopian and Jen Arseneau working on the interactive elements of the exhibit.

Making an exhibit interactive and fun for kids (of all ages) is part of what our Education staff tackle. Jen Arseneau and Maïté Agopian have researched period clothing, food items, and equipment, and have worked on finding ways to integrate learning opportunities with our exhibit narrative. And they have fun doing it. For Denali Legacy, a campsite in the corner of the gallery will be a fun place for kids to hang out while their adult family members are nearby reading about the experiences of the 1913 team.

As for me, well, I’ve spent a lot of time reading, emailing, talking on the phone, writing labels, working with objects, talking with people in person, and thinking about this group of men who did something so incredible that it continues to blow my mind. I’ve laughed over their journal entries, cried over the stories of the ends of their lives, and generally been in awe of what they each contributed to the story of Alaska and their families. I hope that everyone who visits the exhibit can connect with at least one of these men and shares with others the legacy they have left for us all.

Me and the corner of my office dedicated to the exhibit.

Me and the corner of my office dedicated to the exhibit.

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Made on the Mountain

T [Robert Tatum] is working on an American flag which he hopes to hoist on top of the instrument tent on the summit and I am carving a rude inscription on a tent pole, of which I hope to make a cross to set up on the summit.  I got half my carving done and T [Tatum] his flag cut out- two silk handkerchiefs and the lining of a padded noodle can.   — From the climbing journal of Hudson Stuck, dated Wednesday, June 4, 1913


Guest Curator Angela Linn unpacks the first flag flown at the summit of Denali.

When Doug Tatum was grown with children of his own, he discovered an unlikely connection to Alaska. His great uncle, Robert Tatum, was one of the members of the first climbing party to reach the summit of Denali.

“I was in my 30s and I had never, nor did any of my siblings know, that my dad’s father’s brother was Robert Tatum and had summited Denali. We didn’t know that. Dad said he was a very modest, quiet spoken gentleman.”

Doug Tatum was shocked. He knew Robert was a humble person, but this was something noteworthy, something worth bragging about, at least to his generation. Doug Tatum soon found more tangible evidence of his great uncle’s accomplishments:  photos, letters from Hudson Stuck inviting Tatum to be a member of the climbing party, and a handmade flag Tatum had constructed from items along the climbing route.

“It wasn’t kept very well. I found it in a shoebox with some other items while going through some stuff with my parents. I hand carried it to the Chicago conservatory. They spent nine months cleaning it up. We got it just in the nick of time.”

Robert Tatum’s flag will be displayed in the museum’s special exhibit, along with several other artifacts and entries from the four climbing journals kept by the first men who made it to the top of North America’s tallest mountain.

I had made a flag and raised it. First of all after we all shook hands with congratulations, Arch deacon [Hudson Stuck] offered a prayer of thanks.  Then the instruments were read and I raised the flag and Arch d photographed it.

Then while I took some angles with the prismatic compass, W. [Walter Harper] & Mr. K [Harry Karstens] erected a cross.  And set it up. And we all gathered around it and said the “Te Deum” — From the climbing journal of Robert Tatum, dated Saturday, June 7, 1913, the first ascent of Denali


Thanks to the family of Robert Tatum, his flag will be included in the museum’s special exhibit, Denali Legacy.

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Putting the Puzzle Together


Hundreds of 1/8 inch thick pieces of plywood were used to make a model of Denali in 28 layers.

To tell the story of the first ascent of North America’s tallest mountain in our special exhibit Denali Legacy, we decided to use the original journals of the four men who went to the top. Guest Curator Angela Linn was able to track down all four of those diaries and arrange to have them loaned to the museum – the first time they’ve all been together in the same place in a hundred years.


Making a mountain model, layer by layer

Much of what we’ve shared so far on this blog has been objects and information she’s uncovered in the months leading up to the construction phase of the exhibit. But the reason for this exhibit is, after all, a mountain. And it must be represented somehow.

Enter the Denali model. Head of Production Roger Topp has been dreaming in wood cut since early 2012, envisioning a stage fit for projections of what more than a century of climbers have tackled. The four-foot wide model will be constructed of thin strips of laser-cut birch plywood (1/8 inch thick) glued in 28 layers.


Our intrepid coordinator of exhibitions & design, Steve Bouta, tackles the model of Denali.

Once the plans were drawn – to scale – and the pieces started to arrive, there was only one man with the patience, steady hands, and fortitude to put this thing together. Steve Bouta, our exhibitions and design coordinator, armed only with charts, measuring tape, cans of paint for ballast, and wood glue, has the job of painstakingly applying the layers of mountain terrain to our model.

The animation projected onto the finished model will illustrate the climbing history on Denali, beginning with the first ascent of the north peak in 1910 and ending with the 2012 climbing season. There are a total of 64 known routes. The climbs will be shown in different colors, depending on the rate of success of any given route. The thickness of the lines will indicate the number of climbers attempting that route each year.

Soon, visitors will be able to experience 100 years on the mountain in just a few minutes.


There’s still time to track down a home for these stragglers. Steve says there will be no missing pieces in this puzzle.

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