Savanna Bradley is the collections manager at the Pratt Museum in Homer, but she’s been a personal fan and lover of the building and all its artifacts since childhood. To watch her slide out drawers of fragile bones and handle handcrafted fishhooks is to watch a professional care for her many charges, but to hear her talk about the Pratt and all it has to offer is to listen to the perspective of a lifelong lover of history.
The public can now just as easily see exactly what Bradley does in the shadowy back rooms of the Pratt and hear her descriptions of favored collections over the years. The museum is offering behind the scenes tours of its collections and storage, led by Bradley, in conjunction with its 50 year anniversary celebration.
Tours cost $5 per person and are limited to six people per group. They take place at 2 p.m. on Thursdays.
Joining the tour means getting an up close and personal look at the scores of cultural and historical artifacts and organic materials the museum has collected over the years. Also in the process of expanding is the Pratt’s fine art collection, which it adds to by purchasing local pieces from artists through grants.
“I grew up in the museum,” Bradley said. “… Back then I thought museums were just about bears.”
She had an internship there in middle school, and volunteered during high school. She has a major in fine arts and a minor in anthropology from University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Now, as the Pratt’s collections manager, Bradley’s in charge of keeping their collections storage organized and in good shape as well accepting new additions.
“For the majority of the things that we take in, we do a lot of research to make sure it really deals with our mission, our Kachemak Bay and surrounding waters,” she said. “Things that come into the museum are in the intention of keeping them in perpetuity.”
Bradley said the Pratt’s mission may change how that works in the future, just as it has changed since the museum opened officially in 1968. A large portion of the building’s storage is taken up by objects that have nothing to do with the surrounding area and that were collected from the far corners of the state. Back then, the museum’s focus was not as narrow, Bradley said.
Since items remain there in perpetuity, the Pratt simply hangs on to these odd men out of artifacts. One exception is artifacts that fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA. Enacted in 1990, it provides an avenue through which museums and other institutions give human remains and other cultural artifacts clearly tied to federally recognized tribes back to the people they came from.
“The Pratt is happy to say that, as many times as I’ve done inventories, that we no longer have any more human remains on site,” Bradley said. “And I think that’s a great relief to the community to be able to say that everyone has been … respectably returned to their groups.”
Before entering the rooms housing cultural collections and natural collections, on the building’s lower level, Bradley will have you don blue gloves and leave any bulky bags outside. The Pratt is looking to expand its storage space, and one can see why — towering metal file cabinets and stand alone sculptures are at risk of being toppled over by a careless elbow at nearly every turn. Cultural and natural collections house about 24,000 objects between them, Bradley said. The gloves help keep them from deteriorating under human touch.
At the same time, Bradley said the Pratt does not generally treat objects with the kind of preservatives used in museums in the past that essentially froze items in time.
The tours are being held in conjunction with Curator’s Closet, an exhibit in which the museum asked past curators to pick out some of their favorite artifacts or pieces from their years at the museum. Those favorites are currently on display upstairs at the Pratt. Ultimately, the purpose of Curator’s Closet and the behind the scenes look at the Pratt’s collections is designed to spark conversations about history and the area, Bradley said.
From stuffed birds looming out of a corner of the room and ornate, intricate fishhooks to stone dishes used as oil lamps and audio recordings of homesteaders and mariners telling their stories, the history of Kachemak Bay is sitting quietly on the dark shelves of the Pratt, waiting to share itself with the next person to walk through the door.