Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alaska Day 5 Tuesday, Feb 27, 2007
Today was a day of intellectual and cultural enlightenment.

OK, so really what we did was go to the Anchorage Art and History Museum. The art was just about what you would expect at most museums, modern but in many cases with a Native influence. The display of the history of Alaska and it's natives and culture were fantastic. However, not much on dogs or sledding. The one thing they did have was a display with Tapis (Tuppis) and Standing Irons.

Tapis??? Tuppis??? Standing Irons???

Back in the days of the fur-traders with trappers who were out in the bush most of the year, there were very few opportunities to display their wealth and the skills of the women of the house. Human nature being what it is once again came up with a very unique way to show off and make sure every one at the Fur Trader's Rendezvous knew about 'keeping up with the Joneses'. It was not enough to show up with the biggest cache of pelts but you had to show up in style. Now to do this when you are coming in to civilization with just your dogsled and team, was to make the team look as sharp as could be afforded.

Unlike the modern dog show, there just were not the facilities to wash, line comb, brush, chalk and pixie-dust your team in the bush so the trappers began using Tapis and Standing Irons. Tapis or Tuppis, depending where you were from are decorative dog blankets placed over the back of each dog in the team. Standing Irons are a post coming off the top of the collar with a pom pom of wool yarn and trailing ribbons. Many times bells were attached to the Tapis. If you can, imagine many Trappers at the Trading Post each with their dog team decked out in Ribbons and Bells. What a scene that must have been.

Standing irons:

Picture of team with tapis and standing irons. It is down the page as cover art for The Beaver magazine.

The Tapis/Tuppis in the museum were made of red velvet lined with wool cloth. Embroidery was of the Athabaskan style of flowers done in silk ribbon or beading. They were held on the dog's back by tying them with leather thongs to the harness.

One of the lists I am on had a discussion this winter about Tapis and Standing Irons and the only references we were finding were old historical photos. Naturally, I am thrilled that I have had the opportunity to see the real thing.

My guys had better watch out -- they may end up being the best outfitted sled dogs in Texas. We ain't the Texas Dust Mushers for nothin'!

We then walked downtown to see the ice sculptures. The city park, about a block square, in the heart of Anchorage is transformed into a Children's ice rink and surrounded by 5 foot ice sculptures. Unfortunately quite a few of the sculptures showed the ravages of being out in the public and the sun too long. There was one which was in beautiful condition, two Inuits in a kayak. Hopefully Roland was able to get a good picture of it and he will post it to his blog.

Also I did my WAY TOO EXPENSIVE souvenir purchase. I bought a scarf. Not just any scarf but one made of the under wool of the Musk Ox called Qiviut, pronounced KIV-EE-UTE. It is collected in the spring, with each animal shedding less than 6 ounces of wool. Spun into lace fine yarn it is then sent to the native villages where the members of the co-op knit items using traditional patterns. The scarf I have is in the Harpoon Pattern, inspired by a 1200 year old ivory harpoon head and was knitted by Hannah J. Morris who lives in the village of Mekoryuk. The full story of the Oomingmak Co-op and the knitting of the Qiviut yarn can be found at:

I first found this co-op and their wonderful product surfing the web about 8 years ago. No way was cheap old me going to spend that much money on anything; but have continued to come back to their website and drool over the history, the skill and the whole idea. Well, I told myself I would buy something of theirs when I went to Alaska -- like THAT would ever happen!

Well here I am, and I now have a scarf which is warmer than anything I brought with me, as light as smoke and carries the history of the ages.

As for the Iditarod, tomorrow starts the final count down to Saturday's Start in Anchorage and the official timed restart Sunday in Willow. I will be going over to the Millennium Hotel tomorrow and start the Total Iditarod Immersion Sequence.

Now, for the lighter side of the race. Crazy race brings crazier ideas:

Jeff King, five time winner of the race has come up with several innovative ideas to improve his sled, first the sit-down sled, then heated handle bars. This year, Jeff, pictured here, is seen with the results of his innovative breeding program for this year's race.

More later. Meanwhile, hug the pups and tell them they are glad they are not outside here. It is now 0 and dropping.


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