Living in Northwest Greenland was a major exhibit centered on life in the most northerly community in the world, drawing upon on the Arctic Museum's rich collection of objects, photographs and films.
The people of northwest Greenland, the Inughuit, were once familiar to American audiences as the Polar Eskimo. Their skills and knowledge of life in the far north were vital to the success of explorers such as Robert E. Peary and MacMillan. Both Peary and MacMillan worked with Inughuit men and women over many years, developing close ties with them and their families.
MacMillan in particular photographed and filmed his friends and companions. Once home, he wrote and lectured widely about his experiences among the Inughuit. The exhibit drew upon the many photographs MacMillan took and objects he collected to tell the story of the lives of the Inughuit in the first half of the twentieth century. Traditional sealskin clothing and bone tools collected by Peary in Northwest Greenland in 1895, on loan from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and finely carved ivory figures and jewelry, as well as contemporary items from the Arctic Museum's collection were among the objects on view. Film clips
, selected from MacMillan films by Bowdoin College student curatorial assistants, were featured as well. For the first time, it was also possible to experience the exhibit through an audio tour
, available on iPods in the museum, or online at our web page. The tour was developed by curatorial assistant Emma Bonanomi
, with the support of a John Gibbons Fellowship.
The exhibit was the culmination of many years of research by curator Genevieve LeMoine, who interviewed Inughuit elders, some of them direct descendants of the men and women who had worked with MacMillan and Peary, to document many of the photographs in the museum's collection. LeMoine traveled to Qaanaaq, the largest town in northwest Greenland, some 100 miles north of the Thule Air Base, to work with Inughuit elders. Later, some of the elders traveled south to examine collections at the Arctic Museum and at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In the exhibit, historic photographs and objects were combined with quotes from Inughuit elders and contemporary images to give visitors a glimpse of the changes these people have experienced in the last 100 years and more.
This Extraordinary Paradise was supported by a grant from the Museum Loan Network. The Museum Loan Network (MLN) facilitated the long-term loan of art and objects of cultural heritage among U.S. institutions as a way to enhance the installations of museums, thus enabling them to better serve their communities. The MLN grant programs helped museums respond to the increasing public demand for installations relevant to a range of age groups and cultural heritages, and to provide better artistic, cultural, and historical contexts for works on display. The MLN programs led to the sharing of objects among different types of museums, fostering collaborations between institutions of varying size and discipline throughout the United States. Funded and initiated by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, the MLN was administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Office of the Arts.
Research for the exhibit was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs. On-going preservation of archival films is supported by the Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc., in collaboration with the Library of Congress Motion Picture Conservation Center and Bowdoin College. Curatorial assistance was supported by a John Gibbons Internship.
Pictured above: Inughuit families at Qamarfit (Refuge Harbor), Donald B. MacMillan, Refuge Harbor, Greenland, 1924. Inkjet print. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan. Back l-r: Qaavigaq, Ittukusuk, Amaunalik, Qaarqutsiannguaq, Kuutsikitsoq. Front l-r: Qiajunnguaq, Ane Petersen holding Ole, Atangana, with Inatdliaq, Aviaq Henson.