Northwest Greenland Exhibit at Arctic Museum

Story posted October 07, 2005

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Safvak Majaq, age 10, by a sod house, Thule, Greenland, 1946. Photographer: Capt. George Kosco, U.S.N. ©The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College, Gift of Mary Katherine Farrell.

The public had a rare opportunity to see archival film footage of northwest Greenland earlier this month, as The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum celebrated the opening of its newest exhibit, This Extraordinary Paradise: Living in Northwest Greenland.

Film specialist Audrey Kupferberg introduced Hunting Musk Ox with the Polar Eskimo and Traveling with the Polar Eskimo, two short films shot by Donald B. MacMillan (Class of 1898) in northwest Greenland in 1923 and 1924.

The full exhibition will be on view in Hubbard Hall through August 2007.

This Extraordinary Paradise centers on life in the most northerly community in the world, drawing on the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum's rich collection of objects, photographs and films.

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Inughuit families at Qamarfit (Refuge Harbor), Donald B. MacMillan, Refuge Harbor, Greenland, 1924. ©The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College.

The people of northwest Greenland, the Inughuit, were once familiar to American audiences as the Polar Eskimo, whose skills and knowledge of life in the far north were vital to the success of explorers such as Robert E. Peary (Class of 1877) 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.

This Extraordinary Paradise draws on 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 20th 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, are among the objects on view.

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Kettle over a soapstone lamp. Photographer: Donald B. MacMillan. ©The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College.

Film clips, selected from MacMillan films by Bowdoin College student curatorial assistants, are featured as well.

The exhibit is 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.

"It was exciting to be interviewing someone and see them come across a picture of themselves as an infant," reports LeMoine. "It was also a privilege to meet them, and to be able to show some of them objects that had been made by their parents and grandparents."

The film Hunting Musk Ox with the Polar Eskimo documents MacMillan's 1924 sledge journey from northwest Greenland to Ellesmere Island; the title refers to the hunt to capture the first motion picture film of these musk ox in the wild.

In Traveling with the Polar Eskimo, MacMillan filmed everyday life in northwest Greenland in 1923-24.

This Extraordinary Paradise is supported by a grant from the Museum Loan Network. The Museum Loan Network (MLN) facilitates 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 help museums respond to the increasing public demand for installations that are 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 have 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 is 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. Ongoing 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 is supported by a John Gibbons Internship.

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is located in Hubbard Hall, on the Bowdoin College campus. The Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays, and is closed Mondays and national holidays. Admission is free. For more information call (207) 725-3416.

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