Putting the Puzzle Together

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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About University of Alaska Museum of the North

Tour the North. Explore the Museum. The University of Alaska Museum of the North is a thriving visitor attraction, a vital component of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the only research and teaching museum in Alaska. The museum’s research collections – 1.4 million artifacts and specimens – represent millions of years of biological diversity and thousands of years of cultural traditions in the North. Museum members receive free admission to the exhibit galleries throughout the year. The Museum Store features items that relate to the museums collections, and all proceeds support the museum’s operations.
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