In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 11:49 AM on Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pratt Museum invites all to see area's past, present

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

The skeleton of a 38-foot gray whale will be on display soon;

Saturday was "free day" at the Pratt Museum. All ages — infants in baby-carriers, handholding couples, grandparents with grandchildren — took time from Saturday's sunny, no-rain, no-wind weather to see what the museum had to offer.

That's as it should be according to the vision of Diane Converse, Pratt Museum's director and chief executive officer: "a gathering place where people come throughout their lives to learn and to be inspired by the stories, creativity and rich cultural and natural history of this region."

Annually, 25,000-30,000 visitors have an opportunity to be inspired by the Pratt. Also impacted are the "4,000 learners of all ages in our education programs throughout the year," said Converse.


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

The Pratt Museum opened its doors in 1968;

The museum's founding dates back to Sam and Vega Pratt, for whom the museum is named. Their collection of items led to formation of the Homer Society of Natural History in 1955. In 1967, the museum was constructed on land donated by the Pratts as Homer's centennial project, celebrating Alaska's purchase from Russia. The museum has 12 employees, five of whom are full-time. In 2011, an estimated 80 volunteers contributed more than 3,000 hours.

POPS, Patrons of the Pratt Society, is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization that supports the museum by raising funds used primarily for capital expenses.

"It is due to their large efforts that the original property has grown to 9.8 acres and the Pratt has no mortgage, no debt," said Converse.

Today, the Pratt's research collection includes more than 24,000 items, with only a small number on display at any one time.

"Pieces come to us primarily as donations from community members," said Converse. "The Rasmuson Foundation provides the only acquisitions funding we receive, and has allowed us to purchase contemporary art from local artists. ... There is something for everyone."

Currently, area residents are eager to view boat models made by Don Ronda, who died in September. Ronda's attention to detail and history made him an outstanding model builder, as well as a fascinating guide on the museum's harbor tours.

The Pratt's anthropology collection represents the 4,500-year-old history of the Ocean Bay Culture through the Kachemak Tradition to prehistoric Dena'ina Athabaskans. Then there's the history collection, a multi-media art collection and an earth sciences collection, as well as photos, a collection of quilts, a lending library and a biology collection.

Soon to be on display is a 38-foot gray whale skeleton that Lee Post and a crew of volunteers spent 800 hours assembling. When complete, it will become "a world-class exhibit featuring one of the nicest gray whale skeletons ever assembled," said Post.

Since opening in 1968, the museum has been recognized with numerous awards:

• 1996 Museums Alaska Award for Excellence in the Museum Profession;

• 1996 First Place Anheuser-Busch "A Pledge and A Promise" Environmental Education Award;

• 2000 Museums Alaska Award for Excellence in the Museum Profession;

• 2002 National Leadership Grant, Institute of Museum and Library Services;

• 2004 Governor's Award for the Humanities for Distinguished Cultural Service;

• 2005 National Award for Museum Service;

• 2009 Excellence, from Museums Alaska, for "Kachemak Bay: An Exploration of People and Place;"

• 2011 Arts Leadership and Advocacy from Homer Council on the Arts for outstanding accomplishments, service and promotion of the arts.

Plans for a new facility are currently on display, its design reflecting input from the community the museum serves.

"These efforts are expected to maximize the quality of Pratt visitors' experiences and help ensure that the new facility and its programming meet current and future needs of audiences, in a financially sustainable way, for many years to come," said Converse.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at