Arctic Museum open house a popular draw

By Justin Much
Statesman Journal

The light manipulation highlighted each stuffed Arctic critter along with an umiak and a sled, one at a time.

The polar bear loomed large, as would be expected from one of the earth’s largest predators, weighing up to 1,500 lbs. The wolves appeared friskily aggressive, teeth bared to a caribou whose large antlers were tucked down at an angle of defense.

polar bear
This Polar Bear exhibit is one of the first sights to visitors of the Jensen Arctic Museum. Scores of visitors turned out when the Jensen Arctic Museum held an open house Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 26, on the Western Oregon University campus. / AP

Two smaller snow foxes fed, one keeping watch as the other nibbled on prey, while the massive Musk Ox stood sturdy, but alert.

The popular 10-minute display at the Jensen Arctic Museum (JAM) was one of the more popular attractions for the scores of visitors who turned out on Wednesday, Jan. 26, for the museum open house. The light displays started anew every 15 minutes or so throughout the 2-hour open house. There was plenty of interest in the show, as well as the myriad other exhibits of artifacts, arts and crafts and informational kiosks imparting details about societies hailing from the polar regions of North America.

“We are pleasantly surprised,” museum Board member Bob Archer said of the interest in the museum, one of only two in the U.S. and the only one on the West Coast.

“That’s the idea of the open house, just give it a little more visibility.”

Normally, the largest event for JAM is in September when advocates host an annual fundraising salmon bake. An interesting feature of that event is the salmon is caught, filleted and flown to Monmouth from rural Inupiat community Kotzebue, Alaska, located above the Arctic Circle.

It is the very culture, traditional practices, tools and customs of such communities that the museum preserves.

Displays include hand tools of Arctic cultures, yo-yos used both as toys and to develop hunting skills with a bola, fishing boats, overland sleds and of course, the animals of the environment.

There are nearly 5,000 artifacts in the Jensen Arctic Museum collection, according to curator Roben Jack Larrison.

The collection and museum are both housed on the Western Oregon University campus in an expanded former residential home located directly next to the New PE Building. That location and the WOU affiliation is in jeopardy due to recent cutbacks in budgets for state higher education institutions.

With that on the horizon, museum advocates have been courting other interests, and hope to develop interests through events such as the open house.

“We were surprised at the turnout, and happy to see that people were coming from all over (the Willamette Valley) – Albany, McMinnville, Salem,” Larrison said.

Albany is one area that’s shown an interest in luring the museum, while Monmouth has also entered discussions about procedures that can keep the unique exhibit in town.

“Mostly, the guests expressed a desire to help us survive,” Larrison said. “A couple of Monmouth residents renewed their membership. Two people from Dallas expressed their interest in volunteering. A Salem man volunteered to help with marketing.”

The museum was founded by Paul H. Jensen, who spent much of the 20th century exploring the Arctic region, learning about the cultures and collecting artifacts.

Jensen served as the museum’s volunteer curator until his death in 1994. More than 90 additional donors have added to the collections.

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