University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
Past Special Exhibition at the Penn Museum

Raven's Journey was open from November 1986 through February 2010.

Raven's Journey interpreted the traditions of the Tlingit, Athapaskan, and Eskimo groups that have inhabited western North America for centuries.

In all three cultures, "Raven" is believed to be creator of all things, yet each group expresses this concept in different and distinctive ways. The galleries feature the late 19th and early 20th century arts and culture of these three native Alaskan groups, with over 370 objects and rare ethnographic photographs from the Museum's extraordinary American collections.

This exhibit places objects in their cultural contexts, giving insight into the significance of the beautifully crafted implements (tools), weapons, clothing, and ceremonial paraphernalia on display. You'll learn how the Tlingit used certain objects as symbols of social standing and prestige as well as how the Eskimos encoded their implements and references to the animal spirit world. The Athapaskans share the ideas and material culture of both the Tlingit and Eskimo groups.

By crafting beautiful objects with symbolic references to the mythological and supernatural world, the Tlingit, Athapaskan, and Eskimo people rendered the spirit world visible and tactile, a part of their everyday lives.

Highlights of the exhibition include wooden Tlingit clan hats, ornamented with brass and abalone shell; Northwest Coast shaman’s masks; large house posts carved of wood and intricately painted with animal imagery; and woven grass and spruce-root baskets, extraordinarily fine in their craftsmanship. In all, 376 objects from the Museum's exceptional American collections, accompanied by murals and enlarged ethnographic photographs, illustrate the creativity and ingenuity of Alaska's native people.

"Frog" Crest Hat , Sitka, Alaska.
Museum Object Number: NA11740

View All Objects in this Exhibition

The exhibition was researched and developed by Guest Curator Susan A. Kaplan, Arctic archaeologist and anthropologist. Director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Study Center at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Dr. Kaplan is known for her archaeological fieldwork, numerous publications, and exhibitions produced for the Smithsonian Institution and the Penn Museum.

George Byron Gordon

G.B. Gordon began working as an assistant curator in the Museum in 1904. In 1905 and 1907 he and his brother traveled in the interior and along the coast of Alaska in their canoe, the Penn . After becoming the Museum's first director in 1910, he built the Museum's Arctic holdings for the rest of his life.

Louis Shotridge

Born into a high-ranking Tlingit family, Louis Shotridge worked for two decades as Assistant Curator at the Penn Museum where he was trained as an ethnologist. While employed by Penn he spent most of his time in Alaska making important collections for the Penn Museum. Shotridge’s Tlingit artifact collection of over 400 objects has been recognized as one of the world's finest. Shotridge had an intense interest in preserving Tlingit clan history and clan art, and he worked carefully to record detailed linguistic, genealogical, and historical notes on a wide range of topics.

William B. Van Valin

This schoolteacher and self-trained anthropologist was asked by G.B. Gordon in 1916 to make collections for the Museum. In addition to collecting ethnographic objects, he took hundreds of still photographs and motion picture films documenting North Alaskan Eskimo life.

Edward Avery McIlhenny

Upon his return from a journey to North Alaska in 1897, the young naturalist deposited 1,589 objects in the Museum. The detailed descriptions contained in his artifact ledger provide important information on the lives of late nineteenth-century North Alaskan Eskimos.

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