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Smithsonian exhibit to show here


What types of food traditions make Haines distinct compared to other small towns in the United States?

A new exhibit, “Key Ingredients: America by Food,” opening Friday, April 3, at the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center sets out to explore the question.

The exhibit is only the museum’s second from the Smithsonian Institution, and it will inherit all of the exhibit displays and shipping containers, according to museum director Helen Alten.

The exhibit’s journey to the Sheldon Museum was not simple.

Alten knew the exhibit had been traveling in Alaska, so she contacted the Alaska Humanities Forum to see if she could get it in Haines.

The Humanities Forum told Alten that the exhibit schedule was booked and Fairbanks was the last stop.

Alten then contacted the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, and asked if they would consider adding one more venue.

The Smithsonian agreed, under one condition.

“(The Smithsonian) offered everything to us – the walls, panels and kiosks,” Alten said, but the Sheldon Museum had to provide the transportation of all of the contents to Haines.

George Campbell stepped in to donate transport and storage. “He traveled two days up to Fairbanks, picked up 16 crates on Thanksgiving Day, drove two days back and then he stored them for us at Storage and Warehouse from November through March.”

“We were very lucky,” Alten said. Requests to host these types of exhibits are typically made two to three years in advance. “We are now the end of the exhibit.”

Alten is eager to inherit the exhibit because all of the displays and shipping cases now can be reused to create traveling exhibits for the Sheldon Museum, which has never been done before.

The concept of “Key Ingredients” is to engage audiences in national and local food production, consumption and culture.

The exhibit is comprised of five parts: Land of Plenty, Local Flavors, Dynamic Delivery, Festival of Feasts and Home Cooking.

Each section contains the core Smithsonian components about the country, local elements and an interactive children’s aspect.

“This exhibit is much more integrated than we have ever done,” Alten said.

The exhibit in Haines will include pieces from the museum’s collection and canned good and recipes that resident have donated.

Alten is particularly inspired by elements about local subsistence fishing, potlatches and potlucks, a smokehouse, a boat and food tastings.

She has ideas to include elements on coupons and the farmer’s market.

“This is the biggest exhibit that any of us have done,” Alten said.

She described working with the Smithsonian as “fabulous” because of the detailed instructions they provide for the exhibit setup, as well as the associated educational materials.

Alten is looking forward to the exhibit opening next week. To make it happen, there are a few challenges to address.

“Right now, we only have myself and one other person to work on constructing the exhibit. We need help with the setup, particularly lifting crates” Alten said.

Once the exhibit is running, Alten plans to photograph it and send the documentation to the Smithsonian so they can see how Haines is participating.

“Key Ingredients” will run until October.

The museum is also slated to host future Smithsonian traveling exhibits, including “Hometown Teams” which focuses on sports, and “The Way We Worked” which examines jobs.

She has ambitious plans for the museum’s future. “We have a huge role to play in making a footprint in the community…My goal is to have exhibits that go to the Smithsonian.”

For now, the museum is still looking for contributions of canned goods and local recipes to include in “Key Ingredients,” particularly unusual items that are unique to the area, such as spruce tips.

Residents can also add their recipes to the Smithsonian directly at


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