By MARJORIE CLARK
KETCHIKAN — Anyone who has leafed through a photo album knows the joy of seeing candid moments, special moments and family history caught on film. Photos provide a unique view into life “the way it was,” wherever and however it happened.
The Tongass Historical Museum’s new exhibit, “Memory Keepers: Three Alaska Photo Albums,” features photo collections from three people who lived in Ketchikan from the late 1930s through the 1950s. Each of the collections features a different view and experience, from logging and being a summer tourist to exploring Alaska against the backdrop of World War II.
The collection that inspired the exhibit is from Louis Lipshultz. He was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard stationed in Ketchikan in 1943 during World War II. His collection features military personnel working on large guns, ships on the water, and the clinic where he worked as a pharmacist’s mate.
In contrast, other photos show his adventures elsewhere in Alaska, including flights into the Aleutian Islands, a trip to Seward, hunting and fishing.
The museum came to possess the photos through Lipshultz’s daughter, who called from Minnesota to ask if they wanted to have the collection. Erika Brown, museum registrar, said they were excited to have the collection. The juxtaposition of adventure placed against his purpose in Ketchikan is fascinating, she said.
“You can tell how much he was excited by his Alaskan adventure,” Brown said. “He definitely went out exploring and hunting, and experienced all these things. But you also get a look at Coast Guard operations.”
The second collection in the exhibit is from 16-year-old Marjorie Miller, who arrived in Ketchikan on the SS Alaska in 1939. Her collection features postcards, ticket stubs, programs and photos. While here, she made friends and made pictures of their hiking and picnic excursions.
“I always wonder what they would think,” said Ann Froeschle, museum program coordinator. “Did she ever think in a million years, when she put this together, that it would be displayed for everyone to see? It’s because of that reason that it’s very revealing and authentic look into their lives.”
Miller’s collection also came to the museum through her family.
“It’s wonderful that they took the time to look through the stuff and contact us,” Brown said. “As a document, this is really fabulous.”
The last collection in the exhibit belonged to Mabel Becker. In the late 1930s, Becker came to Alaska from Oregon to be a cook in a logging camp where she met her husband Jim. The two traveled all over the Southeast in a float home, moving from logging camp to logging camp.
According to Brown, Becker was particular about documenting the date and place where the photos were taken, often writing across a corner of the image. She said Becker’s photo albums spanned at least four decades and filled two boxes.
“We are having the toughest time paring down their images, not only because of the sheer number, but because they are just great,” Froeschle said.
Among the photos selected for the exhibit include images of the logging camps where they worked, as well as fun times spent picking flowers, hunting and fishing.
“You can see how hard working they were and how much fun they had together,” Froeschle said.
Brown said the project of selecting photos for the exhibit has provided an interesting look into the lives of the photographers and their experience in Ketchikan and Southeast Alaska.
“We’ve taken on an approach for all of these guys that sort of encapsulate important things that would have been important to the people who created the albums,” Froeschle said. “We want to make sure we represent what Ketchikan and the area was, as well as their experience here.”
Brown said it has been an interesting experience to learn about the photographers through their photographs, without having a conversation with them.
“We’ve all kind of developed a relationship with these people too,” Brown said. “You can tell they are telling their story. It’s not just us picking random pictures and trying to recreate something. It’s them telling their own story.”