Monday, September 28, 2009


Most of my shelves hold books, pots & pans, and tools: treasures for me, trash for you.

The only shelf with art objects on it, front row left to right: fossil walrus ivory tusk with carved new ivory whale atop; tiny green jade turtle; grass basket; brass cricket cage. Back row: turned birch bowl, ulu (woman's knife), jade walrus with missing tusk. A watercolor by Donna Gates King hangs above.

But here's the treasure. It is a little woven grass basket made by Eva Black sometime in the late 40's or early 50's. Eva Black was a Native Alaskan woman from the village of Hooper Bay. In the early 50's she was a patient undergoing treatment for TB at the Tuberculosis Sanatorium located about a mile and a half north of Seward, Alaska. She harvested the grass around the TB San and used sewing thread for the color. There was a store in the San that had been set up for the patients to sell their creations.

Here Eva Black is holding the basket, one of four that my friend Jim's parents bought at the TB San store when they lived in Seward from 1940 to the mid-1950's My great friend, Jim Jensen, sent me the basket as a gift a few years ago after a visit to Alaska. Jim was raised in Seward after the War, but hadn't been back since, so we spent several days revisiting his old town and neighborhood.

Jim and his brother with a King Crab in Seward...early '50s

Jim and I were Mormon missionaries in Finland from 1962 to 1964 and we have remained great friends ever since. Jim, a fascinating person, retired linguist, hospital administrator, Peace Corps volunteer to the Amazon.... He is writing a voluminous autobiography, Uphill Both Ways, and the section about his father tells the early story of the years in Seward. In about 1940, having dropped out of high school and telling his newly met young girlfriend he would send for her, his father migrated from rural Utah to Seward, Alaska. His dad was an artist, but couldn't make it on art alone, so he did a variety of jobs, from welder to taxidermist during and after WWII. In 1956 he moved his family from Seward to Boston where, with not even a high school education, he was hired by the great Alfred Sherwood Romer at the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology of Peabody Museum. He soon became the expert at reconstructing dinosaur skeletons. Later he was hired by the Brigham Young University Museum in the same capacity and was eventually awarded an honorary doctorate. Nicknamed "Dinosaur Jim", after his discovery of the 'Ultrasaurus', he is fodder for another fascinating post. My friend Jim has devoted a beautiful website to his father, if you are interested in dinosaurs:

Dinosaur Jim with the Ultrasaurus

And this all from a little basket that I admire every time I walk by....


sbt said...

I love the history that you write about and the amazing photos that you put up! I should hire you to write the captions to go with the pictures on my blog - your writing is so much better!

Anonymous said...

Wow! This is my grandma! Please contact me, I would like a negative of the picture for my aunt, uncles and dad. Thanks! Eva Black

Skaliwag said...

What a small world! My husband's father was the anesthetist and hospital administrator at the Seward TB Sanatorium Dec '56 through July'57. His mother taught the little TB patients. She wrote their names in her diary and put their pictures in her album but none were Eva. I'm tracking people who worked there or were pt's at that time, gathering info for my book. Sure wish I knew how to reach Eva's granddaughter and your friend,Jim.

Anonymous said...

Skaliwag, you can contact me at