Introducing Our intern: Kirsten Olson


1.     What is your background?
I received my bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA.  I’ve also always had a passion for art and creating work inspired by culture.  I just graduated from University of Alaska Fairbanks in December 2014, with my Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics doing just that.  My thesis involved creating utilitarian ceramic ware inspired by community and Yup’ik culture.

2. What got you interested in museum work?
During my time at UAF, I worked for the Ethnology and History Lab at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.  It was an eye opening experience, and I learned so much about both the material culture of the north, as well as the important role of museums in conserving historical and cultural heritage.  Each and every museum preserves a certain history, a single chapter in the book that tells the unique story of a place and people.  That’s what I like about the Pioneer Air Museum; it tells the story of the people and planes that soared into Alaskan aviation history, which had, and still does play a large role in the growth and development of the state. 

3. What brought you to the Pioneer Air Museum?
I’ve visited Pioneer Park and the museum over the past few summers and fell in love with it!  It’s a small museum that packs a punch of history!  There are so many stories to be told about each of the planes and objects that are housed under the gold dome.  I’m very excited to research and share them with our patrons. 

4. What is your favorite thing about Alaska?
The summers are amazing!  So much sun and fun things to do outside; camping, hiking, floating the Chena, and festivals of all kinds!  If you want to experience Alaska, summer is a great time to do it. 

5. What’s your most memorable aeronautical experience?
I haven’t had many, other than typical, and thankfully uneventful, commercial flights, but I hope to go out on a small plane and see the Aleutians.  I did a research project and small exhibit of objects from Attu Island, the farthest west island on the chain, for UAMN and would love to visit one day. 

6. What project are you working on?
Currently I’m working on cataloging various objects in the museum.  Part of cataloging is describing the object in depth, which requires me to take a close look at the object, finding inscriptions, a name etched in metal or initials in boot liners.  These small details bring the objects to life.  I often find myself going down these rabbit holes, researching objects and people, but it paints a clearer picture of the history, and one that I think people can relate to better. 

7. What is the most interesting thing you’ve found in the museum?
One day, Pete the curator of the museum came over to my desk and showed me a map of Alaska from the 1950s with all these circles and red lines all over it.  I love maps and was particularly mesmerized with this one.  The map shows the Adcock ranges, or Low Frequency Radio Ranges, which is how pilots would navigate before all the fancy instruments.  Towers were situated at airports and would emit an “N” or an “A” Morse code signal stream in designated quadrants.  Where the quadrants overlapped, a monotone signal would inform the pilot he was “on course”.  Based on the frequency and volume (louder towards the tower), the pilot would know where he was and what direction he was headed in.  The map for me was like breaking a code; finally understanding one of the many different ways pilots would navigate the sky.

8. What are your plans for the summer in Alaska?
Camping.  I love it, and there are so many great places to go, near and far from Fairbanks.  I hope to make a trip every weekend to someplace new.  Last weekend, Della, the collections manager, took me on a camping trip to Seward and went whale watching—we saw a family of orcas, two humpback whales, porpoises, and tons of sea birds, an unforgettable experience!

9. What advice would you give someone looking to work in museums?
My advice would be to just go for it!  Even if you don’t have a background in museums, like myself, you can still find a way to be a part of everything.  There are many different facets to museum work, website design, photography and media, exhibit design and maintenance, education programs, the museum store, the front desk greeting excited visitors, being a docent and of course just volunteering.  There’s always something that needs to be done and interested and motivated people are always welcomed!

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