The Museum of the Aleutians new executive director takes over

Dr. Virginia Hatfield working in the field on Carlisle Island. (Photo: Dr. Virginia Hatfield)

The Museum of the Aleutians has a new executive director, Dr. Virginia Hatfield.  She took the reins at the beginning of January.

Hatfield is an archaeologist by training. She said she fell in love with the field during an undergrad class called ‘Prehistory of Texas.’

“What really sunk it for me was we went out at spring break to the desert and recorded rock art in a rock shelter,” Hatfield said. “The desert was in full bloom and I was working with a bunch of volunteers that were anywhere from 30- to 70-years-old and everyone was just happy to be there doing this work.”

Six years after that, she made her first trip to the Aleutian Islands. She was a grad student and went to Attu Island for an excavation. Over the years, she slowly worked her way west with digs on Shemya, Buldir, and Adak.

As a PhD student, she spent more time in Unalaska. The Museum of The Aleutians became base for her research, but she never planned on living here.

“I really didn’t think I would move here, especially after I finished my PhD.” Hatfield said. “I didn’t think I’d be successful in generating research grants to come out here and reconnect with it.”

So she started a contract archaeology business.

“I thought I was sentenced to Texas and the heat,” Hatfield said. “I don’t like heat. I really don’t.”

While Texas is where her family lives, she’s glad to be back in Unalaska.

“Boy you can’t beat the archaeology out here and the community and the grandeur of the natural world here,” Hatfield said. “It’s just so wonderful. I love it.”

Hatfield is excited for the new challenge of being a museum director. It’s her first foray into working in a museum full-time. She has big plans. Hatfield is in the middle of a complete inventory of the entire museum and planning for a community archaeology program that could start this summer.

“We will be out and doing projects where people can come out and do excavations,” Hatfield said. “If they want to come into the lab and learn how to catalog and analyze, we welcome everybody to come partake in that. ”

She said it’s an opportunity for budding archaeologists and curious community members to get hands on experience.

Hatfield replaces Dr. Neal Hitch who reopened the museum this summer. It had been closed for nearly a year, following the resignation of the previous director when items from the collection were found in her home.

Zoe Sobel is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk based in Unalaska. As a high schooler in Portland, Maine, Zoë Sobel got her first taste of public radio at NPR’s easternmost station. From there, she moved to Boston where she studied at Wellesley College and worked at WBUR, covering sports for Only A Game and the trial of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

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