Nothing defines an area like its history, culture and arts. Alaska’s Rainforest Islands have been inhabited by Native Alaskans for thousands of years, so it’s not surprising that their culture and arts are prevalent throughout.
Authentic tribal houses are located in Kasaan, Klawock and Hydaburg on Prince of Wales and in Wrangell. The Chief Son-i-Hat Whale House in Kasaan is the only standing Haida longhouse in the United States. The nearby community of Kake on Kupreanof Island is home to the world’s tallest totem pole. Of particular interest to visitor and resident alike are the ancient native petroglyphs (ancient stone carvings) and fish traps found on area beaches at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park in Wrangell, at Sandy Beach Park in Petersburg and Prince of Wales Island beaches.
While spending time in museums may not be the primary reason to visit Alaska, missing a museum would be missing an integral part of the journey, especially one in Alaska’s Rainforest Islands. The Nolan Center houses the award-winning Wrangell Museum and the Clausen Museum in Petersburg looks back at the early Norwegian and fishing lifestyle of the region.
As you visit the local communities throughout Alaska’s Rainforest Islands, take time to appreciate the vast talent of local artisans, showcased in local galleries and shops and festivals. There’s something for every taste.
Chief Shakes Tribal House, on an island in the center of Wrangell Harbor, was recently reconstructed using traditional methods of Tlingit carvers. It was recently rededicated in a special ceremony bringing natives from across the region to celebrate. Tribal dancers perform in the house and provide a quick insight into their culture.
The community of Klawock on Prince of Wales Island is a major center of Tlingit culture. Klawock’s Totem Park has the largest collection of authentic totem poles in Alaska, containing 21 totems which were originally placed here in 1938–40 as part of a Civilian Conservation Corps project. The park displays original and replica totems from the old village of Tuxekan. The City recently built a carving shed to house many of the totem poles during restoration. Visitors are welcome to drop by to see the carvers at work.
The Wrangell Museum is located in the James & Elsie Nolan Center. The museum offers an historical interpretive walk through Wrangell’s colorful history. Exhibits feature everything from natural environment to Native Culture, fur trade, gold rush, military presence and much more.
In the Center’s central area, watch a short video highlighting different topics from Wrangell’s past. Over 250 photos from the museum collection, which number over six thousands, have been selected for display. On display are three-dimensional artifacts as well as several borrowed artifacts that help interpret different aspects of Wrangell’s rich history.
Kake is home to the federally recognized tribe, Organized Village of Kake. The population of this small village is overwhelmingly Alaska Native or part Native and most live a subsistence lifestyle. Traditional customs are important to Kake residents. The world’s largest totem pole was commissioned by the community of Kake and carved by Chilkats (an Alaska Native tribe) in 1967 for Alaska’s centennial celebration. The 132-foot totem pole now stands on a bluff overlooking town.
Known for its rosmal (traditional Norwegian painting) decorated homes and storefronts; Petersburg has numerous examples of public art throughout the downtown area. As you stroll through the historic downtown you will see murals, sculptures, fiber arts, and paintings from local and regional artists. View other public art pieces like the raven and eagle totem poles and the Harold Balazs designed brass inlays installed in the sidewalks of Nordic Drive (Main Street).