49 Voices: Mary Ellen Frank of Juneau

Mary Ellen Frank is the director and curator of Aunt Claudia’s Dolls museum at 114 South Franklin, on the second floor of the Triangle Building. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

This week we’re hearing from Mary Ellen Frank in Juneau. Frank is a doll maker and director/curator of Aunt Claudia’s Dolls a local Museum.

Listen now

FRANK: There was something about the Native culture that I was really interested in. I took a doll-making workshop up here with an Eskimo artist, Dolly Spencer, and after I did that, I kinda just expanded what I did. I ended up doing an apprenticeship in Tennessee with a doll-maker for a period of time and studied with her. That was kinda the end of my state job and the beginning of my working as an artist.

You know, there’s a lot of my work in this doll museum. These are some that I’m working on right now, I’m just about finished with. These are two dolls of a local woman, Helen Watkins. One shortly before she died. This is of her slightly earlier and these are commissioned pieces. And then this is a woman, Maggie Kadanaha, from Klukwan.

This whole area here is dolls that I made, and a lot of these have been commissioned by other people but then loaned back to the museum.

You can see so much about a culture from looking at these dolls. Also, I’ve learned so much. I’ve always wondered why did they have fish skin bottom soles to mucklucks or even fish skin mucklucks, but then when I saw the Icelandic dolls had fish skin shoes, Russian dolls have basketry shoes and Sami or Norwegian dolls have reindeer fur on the bottom of their shoes. It started to come together for me that there would be great traction from all of those elements in snow and ice.

So you know, you kinda learn stuff by looking at the clothing that dolls provide. People don’t wear a lot of this clothing anymore, but you know, you get a picture of where it came from.

Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org

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