The employees of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum are used to wearing many different hats, and not just for staying warm in the cold weather.
Director of Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center Susan Kaplan characterizes the museum's inner workings by its "small staff and busy place." Kaplan is also an Associate Professor of Sociology & Anthropology.
In order to understand Kaplan's role as director, it is essential to understand the multiple audiences that the museum seeks to reach.
"[When] you start seeing how we think about our audience you see the many directions our activities may take," Kaplan explained.
"Almost every elementary school within driving distance comes and visits," she said, adding that tours are led by students and docent-trained community volunteers.
The museum staff receives daily visitors from the general public while as well as calls from "scholars from around the world who want to use photographs or have questions," said Kaplan.
For Kaplan, a source of immense pride is the consistent effort which the museum makes to serve the indigenous communities whose histories it documents and displays. In 1860, for example, Bowdoin started sending people to the arctic with cameras. This has led to "130 years of photographic history of single communities," said Kaplan.
According to Kaplan, the documentation is so thorough that one could "watch people grow up" through the photographs in the museum's collection. She firmly believes that these "family photo albums" should be reintegrated into their Arctic communities of origin. The museum has run a number of projects in which either Kaplan, a curator, or a trained student visits the community to identify those depicted in the pictures.
The material in the museum is "so well documented that you know from the photographs corroborating the journals, you can take the past and take the present and link them up," said Kaplan. "[This] allows it to be used by the people whose history it represents."
At one point the College was able to provide funds for an indigenous community member to come to Bowdoin for three weeks and identify those featured in Peary-MacMillan's footage. The museum sent 100 DVDs of footage back to the Arctic communities narrated by one of their own members.
Another audience that the museum benefits is the Bowdoin students who have opportunities to interact with the Arctic Museum's archives through coursework, honors projects and independents studies.
Student employees like Ricardo Zarate '13 say they benefit greatly from their role in the life of the museum.
"We entrust our students with projects that involve analyzing these objects, caring for them; they write museum brochures...learn how to be professionals," said Kaplan.
Zarate described the Arctic museum as an "eclectic museum with an eclectic group of individuals working in it."
He said that the eight members of the museum's staff and the students they employ are a "tight knit group."
Zarate, who mainly works as a receptionist, has also done jobs ranging from "archiving to painting the front door with a combination of shoe polish and paint thinner" because, as he said: "it needed to be done."
Kaplan's own journey to the field of arctic studies began as an undergraduate. Her interest in non-Western art led her to collaborate with a professional field curator on an analysis of Melanesian ceramics.
This "back room" experience with Oceanic art showed Kaplan "how much fun a career in the museum world can be," she said.
Her interest in the "relationship between humans and the environment" unexpectedly led to a professor of Arctic Studies offering her the opportunity of an Arctic expedition.
She went into it thinking, "It is the exact opposite of the tropics but it will be a good experience," and she fell in love with the Arctic.
"I have never been to Melanesia," she added with a grin.
Kaplan advises students to "know what you're interested in but be flexible enough to take opportunities."
She attributes her academic growth to her work in museums.
After a fellowship at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Kaplan came to Bowdoin where she performs what she describes as a "juggling act." In any given day she may interact with scholars, oversee the latest installation, and plan for the next big opening, not to mention her duties as a professor.
"If you are someone who likes to do one thing at a time, my job is not for you," said Kaplan, who also acknowledged the rewards of her job.
"I love it when the different pieces of my life as a faculty member and museum director come together all the efforts we make to conserve and digitize identify photos is then used by an undergraduate to write an honors thesis, awakening an interest that continues in graduate studies in political, social, environmental issues," she said.
Genevieve LeMoine, the museum's curator and registrar, has been working in the field of Arctic studies for almost 25 years and has spent 14 years working for the Arctic museum.
There is "always something new and exciting" going on at the Museum, she said.
"We talk a lot about diversity and [the museum] is dedicated to understanding other cultures and environments...being able to involve undergraduates in museum work can be life-transforming and is a lot of fun, exposing people to the real objects, the real drawings, and the real photographs is such an important thing," Kaplan said.
The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum's latest exhibit opens to the public on November 19. It will feature contemporary Inuit carvings and prints which have been produced for sale since the 1950s.