By Barbara Curtin
January 21st, 2014
MONMOUTH — The Jensen Arctic Museum, a fixture in this community since 1985, is on the move to its new home at the University of Oregon.
Western Oregon University’s Hamersly Library is bidding a final farewell to the institution with an exhibit that runs through March 16.
Don’t expect to see the Jensen museum’s stuffed polar bear or dioramas of Arctic life. These are being packed for transport to UO’s Museum of Natural Cultural History in Eugene. Instead, the library is paying tribute to the Arctic museum’s founder, the late Dr. Paul H. Jensen (1907-1994), who donated most of the 5,000 artifacts. It’s the largest Arctic collection in the United States.
“He put a lot of his heart and soul into making that connection with WOU and Alaska,” said Jerrie Lee Parpart, exhibits coordinator and archives assistant at the library. “That is mostly what this exhibit is.”
Text panels share aspects of Jensen’s work, such as publishing traditional children’s stories in Yupi’k, Inupiat and English. Jensen’s passion for the work was so great that he started an exchange program to bring children from remote Alaskan villages to Monmouth and Corvallis, Parpart said.
“They didn’t know what a car was, or a station wagon or bicycle,” said Parpart. The visits introduced children to the culture that their textbooks described.
Despite the rarity of the collection, the small-town museum never drew the visitors needed to sustain it. Facing budget challenges, WOU studied possible options for four years before reluctantly deciding to cease operations in 2013.
The UO museum was chosen to receive the artifacts because it is Oregon’s repository for state-owned anthropology and paleontology collections. The Legislature helped secure $990,000 in bonds for the move; UO is providing additional support.
Kristin Strommer, the UO museum’s marketing and communication specialist, said that the Jensen collection may be the focus of an exhibit in Eugene this year. No date has been set.
“So many people have asked,” she said. “There’s a great deal of interest in the community.”