Inside Wells Fargo’s Anchorage, Alaska, office is the Alaska Heritage Museum — home to one of the best collections of native Alaskan art and artifacts in the world. The museum includes more than 6,000 Alaska Native artifacts ranging from clothing, baskets, tools, and carvings to a Bering Sea kayak made from walrus skin. The collections reflect the diversity of Alaska’s many native cultures and the special survival skills adapted to climate and food sources in different regions.
“This museum serves Alaska’s communities very uniquely in how directly connected our objects are connected to living families of all cultures,” said Tom Bennett, manager of the museum. “Visiting school children, in fact, often point out objects made in the distant past by relatives who lived 800 miles from Anchorage. That is a connected museum, in my opinion.”
The museum started in 1968 as the National Bank of Alaska’s Heritage Library. The collection began under the direction of the bank’s president, the late Elmer Rasmuson. At the time, out-of-town collectors were purchasing rare and valuable pieces of Alaskan history and culture. Rasmuson worked with others to keep the Alaskan artifacts in their place of origin.
“One of our objectives in creating and expanding the bank’s museum has been to keep in Alaska our art and artifacts, and indeed bring many of the items back to their place of origin,” Rasmuson said. “In this, I think we have been successful and thus helped preserve the heritage of Alaska.”
Following a merger in 2000 with National Bank of Alaska, Wells Fargo has continued the museum’s mission of providing a free, public space for people to connect with the stories of Alaska’s past. In addition to native Alaskan art and artifacts, other highlights of the museum include 14-foot-long woolly mammoth tusks, a 46-ounce gold nugget found in Alaska, a 5,000-volume Alaskan research library, and paintings by acclaimed Alaskan artist Sydney Lawrence and others.
Today, trained museum professionals work closely with local tribes, museums, and community organizations to provide a space for community programs, tours, and access to cultural artifacts.