(From the Alaska State Museum)
by Steve Henrikson, ASM Curator of Collections
Though famous for our isolation and uniqueness, the scattering of Alaskan material culture around the globe shows the extent of our engagement in the world economy. Years ago I was in Manhattan, on the “museum crawl,” and took a few minutes to browse an antique mall in the Garment District. The bottom floor was reserved for the glitziest of furnishings and decorative arts, and there, amidst the Deco and the Louis XIV, I glimpsed something so incongruous I thought I must be hallucinating. In the middle of a fashionably lit kiosk of fine porcelain and crystal was a century-old Alaskan salmon tin. I couldn’t have been happier.
The label read “Red Brand Spring Salmon, Arctic Packing Company, Alaska,” and the can itself looked early. It was hand-soldered, with a small vent hole that was plugged with solder after the cooking process. The label appeared to be an 1890s chromolithograph, an expensive process by which master printers hand stippled designs on stone plates to produce complex designs with naturalistic shading in over a dozen colors—each color requiring its own stone plate. The Arctic Packing Company operated canneries at Larsen Bay, Olga Bay and Nushagak Bay in the 1880s and 90s. However, the latter site was in operation beginning in 1878. One of only three canneries that began operations that year, listed as Alaska’s first.