Project: ArtShops 2017 Objects of Research
Alaska State Council on the Arts Partnership
Written by: Melissa Shaginoff, ArtShop Leader

The ArtShops program is a collaboration between the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Arts and Culture Foundation and The CIRI Foundation’s A Journey to What Matters: Increased Alaska Native Arts and Culture grant program. Established in 2016, ArtShops support emerging Alaska Native arts leaders to develop their skills in leading community-based arts programs.


This ArtShop project has given me the opportunity to explore different methods of sharing indigenous knowledge. Through an integrated practice of experiencing 3D technologies and offering access to raw materials students are able reverse-engineer and problem-solve the creation of objects found in museum collections. The idea is to activate these objects from their institutional storage for a potential understanding of their utilitarian purpose within a living culture.

This project first started in collaboration with Cassidy Phillips of Monkshood Designs. Using photogrammetry Cassidy created and printed 3D models of objects found in the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North’s collections. Using open-source software these 3D models were exported onto a public platform in which one could digitally view the objects from a computer or smartphone device. This allowed one to view objects at 360 degrees as well as zoom-in to view the detail and texture of the objects. The objects were also printed to scale in Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVA) models. This allowed one to hold the object in its original size and form. By doing this, students are able to learn how these objects were used in action and relation to their own bodies. For example, holding a 3D printed scraper in one’s hand tells you the about the physical grip upon the object, what direction the object would move, and what materials the object would be used on.

Doing this ArtShops project allowed me to bring the museum collections to my tribe and community. Offering the experience of museum collections through 3D technologies implicitly asks its observer to think about the creation of these objects. It is in this process that we are reminded of a very rudimentary but crucial Indigenous learning skill-to observe. Observing through both a virtual reality and physical replica demonstrates the ability to learn from one’s culture regardless of physical access. This idea of utilizing museum collections as teaching tool for our community will only strengthen and expand our indigenous knowledge.