Haines museum gets huge donation, more storage

The Sheldon Museum in Haines received an early Christmas present last week worth an estimated $350,000. It’ll allow the museum to expand its collection.

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There’s really nothing too exciting about shelves. Most people probably don’t think much about them, expect maybe when it comes time to dust them off. But a shipping container full of high-quality shelving had museum director Helen Alten bursting with joy last week.

“This is really exciting,” Alten said over the loud buzzing of a drill. “I first bid out compactor shelving for this room and brand new shelving was priced at about $350,000.”

Dawson Construction employees assemble a maze of framing on Monday at the Sheldon Museum. (Jillian Rogers)
Dawson Construction employees assemble a maze of framing on Monday at the Sheldon Museum. (Jillian Rogers)

Alten wrote a grant for the cost, but was turned down. The museum is overflowing with boxed collections that are crammed into inconvenient spaces, so an entire room dedicated to moveable, archival shelving is desperately needed. But without a donation or grant, the shelves were too cost prohibitive. Enter George Campbell.

“I told him that we wanted to do this to expand our storage and George Campbell told me about shelving that was available.”

The compactor shelving, as it’s called, was being given away by the state, at the state’s historic library.

Shelf parts waiting to be assembled. (Helen Alten)
Shelf parts waiting to be assembled. (Helen Alten)

“In my career, I’ve been in museums for 30 years, I have never seen compactor shelving be surplused.”

The state office couldn’t find any takers for the giant shelves because of the high shipping costs, Alten says. Alaska Marine Lines donated the cost of shipping and Dawson Construction donated some installation time. There’s a grant pending currently that would pay for the rest of Dawson’s time and materials.

“We may end up getting this completely free,” Alten said. “What makes this so special is that it’s all metal, it’s stainless steel, it’s powder coated and it’s completely inert. So, for preservation purposes, it’s the highest preservation standard.”

The shelves run on a track, so a subfloor, carpeting and rails had to be installed in the museum basement before they were assembled. That all happened over the weekend.

The mechanism that allows the shelves a smooth ride on tracks. (Helen Alten)
The mechanism that allows the shelves a smooth ride on tracks. (Helen Alten)

“So we figure it will quadruple our storage capacities. It’s huge! One of the things we’ve been saying for years to people is that we can’t take it because we can’t store it, we don’t have enough space.”

We take a stroll up the attic space so Alten can show just how crowded things have gotten.

Dozens and dozens of boxes are stacked to the ceiling on bowing, wooden shelves. Alten says it will all be moved to the new setup downstairs, along with boxes of archives currently living above the staff offices. The empty upstairs area will become a children’s programming center.

By Monday afternoon, the floor and tracks were in and framing installed. Alten is hoping for some volunteers to stop by this

week to help place the actual shelves.

“I’m so happy. I’m so happy. This is just amazing. They’re running smoothly, they’re working really well.”

The museum is expecting a large collection sometime in the new year from Alaska Indian Arts, though the details have yet to be worked out. The prospect of getting 200 boxes of archives was the catalyst for the new storage project.

Alten says at least now, they’ll be ready.

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