An American crown jewel way up North

     (PNAN-AK) – The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center began as a public-private partnership to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the purchase of Alaska from Russia. The Museum opened its doors in 1968 with an exhibition of 60 borrowed Alaska paintings, and a collection of 2,500 historic and ethnographic objects loaned from the local historical society.

     A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts made possible the first visiting national exhibition, “The Far North” from the National Gallery of Art in 1973. That same year, the Museum became the first museum in Alaska accredited by the American Association of Museums, and voters approved a bond issue to pay for a 15,000 square-foot building addition.

     In the next decade, with the flood of revenues from oil development, the state funded community-wide building projects. “Project 80′s” led to a major 140,000 square-foot expansion of the Museum in 1986. Funds were raised to complete the Alaska Gallery, a showcase of the Museum’s permanent historic and ethnographic collection. This Gallery remains a popular Alaska resident and tourist destination, helping school children and adults alike explore Alaska’s unique history and rich cultures.

     As the facility grew, so did the Museum’s collections. The permanent collection now numbers 17,500 objects plus an education collection of roughly 2,000 artifacts; the Department contains more than 350,000 historical photographs.

     More than 20 travelling exhibits from around the globe are highlighted in the Museum, including an endless array of educational and cultural programming as well as community and family hands-on activities. In 1992, the Museum also became the home of the first regional office of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History Arctic Studies Center. The Arctic Studies Center supports the Museum’s mission through research, education, collections and exhibitions.

     As one of the 10 most visited attractions in Alaska, the museum looks forward to another expansion of both its facility and mission, to become the region’s premier repository and workshop for the study, appreciation, and enjoyment of the culture and science of the North.

     For more information, including the current exhibits:

          “(Re) Emergence: Contemporary Native Art and Design” through December 31; “Alaska Watercolor Society Juried Exhibition” through November 21; “Kiska and Adak: War in the Aleutians” through February 2011; and upcoming shows:

          “Andy Warhol: Manufactured” opening Friday, November 5; “Wonderland of Toys” on view Friday, November 26; “Anchorage School District Art Show” on view February 26, 2001; and “Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age” opening March 4, 2011, see or call 907.929.9201.


Editor’s note: This writing is from the 2003 Spring Art-to-Art Palette Journal. Both educators were participating in the Art-to-Art: Building Friendships Through Art program.

Way up North they found their true heavens on Earth

     There are those who found a solace in regions where the bears, the moose and other wildlife roam openly. Their presence by those pristine waterways and even the flocks of them within ear-shot, roaming the rolling landscapes give not only an artist a real life visual to paint, but also hugs the human self with a mental tranquility. These are those people with that pioneering spirit who relish in the excitement of new activities that comes from winter to spring and summer to fall.  Sara Donkersloot of Naknek, Alaska and Lian Brehm of South Walden, Vermont are two teachers, and along with their families, share a mutual loving respect for the beauties within America’s North Country.

     Although, each of the teacher’s journeys have incurred different twists and turns in their family home quests, The Brehm’s acquisition of a New England historical home built in the 1800s, and Donkersloot’s new construction on the Alaskan Tundra, have enabled them to surround themselves with their northern region’s individual natural sceneries.

     Sara Donkersloot and her family’s journey from their home state of Idaho to America’s 49th acquisition in 1988 proved to be more than just the normal ins and outs of a relocation; moreover, a true test of human strength. As she recalls, from sight at one of the first places they would live, “I wondered what I have done to my poor children to bring them here.” However throughout the years, that self-questioning: If I did the right thing—emerged with the positive hopes she would see in her dreams.

     Although Naknek had a housing shortage, it was common practice for the school to assist their teachers for a place to live, but Sara and husband John had not only a large family, but also four young children. Hannah was 4, John 6, Rachel 9, and Luke 11. “The district secretary told me we would be living in a trailer next to an Inn,” she said. Her mind visualized an old, large, and white Victorian Inn, complete with a wraparound porch, and one similar to what she saw on the Bob Newhart’s show.

     During the second leg of her journey, they started to hear things at the Seattle barge office. As their household goods and car were being loaded, “people who have spent time in Naknek asked us if we found a place to live,” she said. They knew of the residential shortage, but she recalls her gleeful words, “We will be living next to an Inn.” They did not recall seeing any such places, but did know of where the town’s lively summer spot, The Red Dog Inn and Saloon.

     On their final trip aboard the ferry from Seattle to Haines, they talked with others who spoke of the Naknek/King Salmon area as well as the ‘Red Dog’. The place is known to rock and roll regularly with a live band well beyond the wee hours of the night. “She suddenly looked at me with those fixed teacher’s eyes, head cocked, a said in an almost closed lips voice, “They couldn’t put a family there!” remarked Big John. Nevertheless, the Donkersloot’s embraced their first Alaskan ‘hilltop’ home and surroundings with the same heartfelt appreciation that went into the search. Besides the entertainment activities, the ‘Red Dog’ served as a hotel, a restaurant and a Laundromat. “We all shared the same well which meant not much water for us when business was booming,” said Mrs. Donkersloot. Despite of it all, the family made the adjustment for their new landlords because “they proved to be exceptionally caring as well as all the Naknek people we met,” she humbly added.

     The Donkersloots found another place in their second year, but it had a catch. They had to be out of their place by June because the owners used the cabin when they came up during commercial fishing season. “But we jumped at it because summer was nine months away,” said Big John. They kept searching for a good year-round rental and luckily they found one, but it wouldn’t be available until mid-July. That six-week time span left them worried and scrambling for housing. They were having no luck and the only choices were a friend’s unfinished dirt floor garage or the Catholic Church that had no bathroom or running water. They were ready to pitch a tent on the Tundra, but the mosquitoes and bears would have been too much for the family.

     Their search for a place continued into mid-July until John ran into a friend at the airport, who he asked before. He reminded John that the place was too small for his family and the water was bad. ”I guess it was the look of desperation on my face when he finally tossed me the keys,” said John. “Can’t tell you how I felt in words, but it made my heavy heart soar,” he added. As the years went on, the family kept looking at homes to buy, but the prices were high and since most of them are owner-built, the add-ons did not have a proper room-to-room flow. “Some you walked through the bathroom to get to the kitchen. And there were many others with no closets,” said Sara. They were encouraged to build their own by a seller. “I thought it was quite odd, but I knew he had our best interest in mind,” she said.

     Since the family had saved all their Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend money, they decided to purchase land. “Sara started building our house in her mind almost immediately. She wanted big windows to see the beautiful rainbows, sunrises and sunsets over of the river, and the wildlife that roamed out across the Tundra,” said John. Luckily, they found their land near their usual hiking trail that led down to the river and also had a bear trail crossing on the property.

     “John was not a carpenter by trade, but I figure he might have it in his blood since his grandfather was one,” said Mrs. Donkersloot. They received so much encouraging words, “You can do it. It is not hard,” from so many people, and so the family went for it to build their home. Their goal was to keep things simple in order to ward off future problems. “I followed a basic rectangular design and built all the plumbing into one interior wall,” said the Sara’s Tundra homebuilder. It took several years to complete the house because John was working two jobs, at the airline and as a heavy equipment operator. It took longer to build because all materials either came by barge from Seattle or had to come by air. Out of all what they went through to finally end up in their own home, “all my children have become to understand what it deeply means to bond as one,” said Mother Donkersloot.

     Lian Brehm first met her husband Douglas, in his hometown of Providence after graduation from the Rhode Island School of Design. He found a job in Vermont and she followed. After a three year search, “we stumbled upon our home by coincidence,” she said.

     Originally built by Nathaniel Farrington, one of Walden’s early settlers in c.1804, the house is located on Bayley-Hazen Road, a 54-mile-long Revolutionary War road, stretching  from Wells River to Hazen’s Notch in Westfield of which five miles runs through the western side of Walden. The home has a history of serving as a post office, general store, tavern, and offered rooms for rent, was built into a hillside that faces the Northwest where “you can see the top of Vermont’s highest mountain, Mt. Mansfield, from the second and third floors,” said Mrs. Brehm.

     Made of very large granite blocks, one of its features is a walk-out basement, for which it was originally named the Stone Bottom House. Also, the house sits high above Morrill Brook. “In the springtime, I can hear the rush of the waters roar inside,” she quipped.

     Gracing the front and back side of the home are “huge sugar maple trees that must be over 200 years old,” spoke her husband Douglas. Also “it was on the first day we looked at the house, I found a bottle on the bank of the brook,” he added. Since then, the couple has unearthed over 300 bottles intact and hundreds broken that were used for tonic and medicine.

     Some of the other artifacts they have discovered are: a whale oil lamp with dual wicks, a large ornate teapot with lid, colonial smoking pipes, cups, plates, old leather button-down shoes, a belt buckle, a bone toothbrush and glass lids that pre-dated the paper milk bottle seals. Across the road from the house, is where the original carriage barn is located. Since then, it has been updated and now serves as Mrs. Brehm’s studio. This section sits on 10 of the 15 acres they maintain. The original farm consisted of over 250 acres. The Brehms consider themselves as not the owners, but the stewards of the house.

     To learn more out America’s 49th acquisition, visit and the ‘Green Mountain’ state,

Published by on October 2010. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Marketplace Guide, At the Museums dept, PaletteBoards Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Comment for “An American crown jewel way up North”

  1. fenderbirds

    nice article, keep the posts coming

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