Sealaska receives large gift of Native artifacts

Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- An Oregon businessman has given the Sealaska Heritage Institute a large gift of more than 50 Native artifacts.

The gift to the institute is the largest donation by a private collector to date.

''It wasn't anything really heroic,'' said Bob Bowlsby, chief executive officer for Oregon's Spacesaver Specialists. ''It was just the idea that I needed to give these back to where they belonged, because they weren't doing any good to anybody down here.''

Bowlsby, who lives in Tigard, Ore., said he received the objects 35 years ago from an 80-year-old woman who traveled throughout Alaska as a teacher in the early 1900s.

''I think she just wanted me to be a good custodian of her memories and all of the things she enjoyed when she was up here with the tribal people,'' said Bowlsby.

The majority of the collection is utilitarian in nature and includes fishing tools, halibut hooks, carving tools and horn spoons, said Sorrel Goodwin, an archivist with the institute.

However, several of the more unusual objects appear to be shamanistic in nature, including a crown of grizzly bear claws from British Columbia and several bone and bear tooth charms from Klukwan.

About half of the objects are from the Northwest coast, Goodwin said. The other half - mostly tools - are from Arctic groups.

Bowlsby came into possession of the collection when he was working as a media director for a joint school district project in southern Oregon. A retired teacher read an article about his work and approached him about donating the collection as a teaching resource.

The collection circulated through local elementary schools for several years, used in classrooms where students were studying Northwest Indians. But to Bowlsby's dismay, items began to disappear.

''They got pilfered,'' Bowlsby said. ''It would go to the schools and some of the more choice items never came back.''

Several ceremonial headdresses and ''some outstanding beadwork'' were lost, he said.

Unsure of what to do, Bowlsby stored the collection in his home, where it remained for about 30 years. This year he was contacted by the curator of Oregon's Warm Springs Indian Museum, who put him in touch with Sealaska.

Sealaska will display the collection eventually, Goodwin said. But the items must be catalogued and preserved before that can happen.

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