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The Mission Installation March 14th to 17th, 2013.

Surprises and Contradictions in the Oral History of Sheldon Jackson School and CollegeShort Film: Surprises and Contradictions in the Oral History of Sheldon Jackson School and College

Link to Sitka Art Blog

Some of my essays and other writings on the history of Sheldon Jackson:

The Davis Case

The Davis Case: a federal school integration case in Sitka, 1906

Calvinism and Historic Preservation

Calvinism and Historic Preservation: an unintended effect of theology is the preservation of historic architecture

Origins of the Sitka Mission

Origins of the Sitka Mission: how the undermining of Tlingit power led to the early success of the Presbyterian project

The Cottages

The Cottages: the surprising story of a model Christian Native community

Mission School

Mission School: education, then and now

Call of the Wild racist

Call of the Wild: The shocking racial views of Jack London in this adventure classic

A Brief Chronology of Sheldon Jackson School and College

A Brief Chronology of Sheldon Jackson School and College

Boatbuilding in Sitka: Part 1 Before 1900

Boatbuilding in Sitka: Russian ships, American entrepreneurs

Boatbuilding in Sitka Part 2

Boatbuilding in Sitka Part 2: Dozens of fishing boats built, mostly by Alaska Natives

Boatbuilding in Sitka Part 3: After 1930

Boatbuilding in Sitka Part 3: the pride of Sitka

 

 

sheldon jackson campus

The Mission was an interactive art installation in Whitmore Hall on the historic Sheldon Jackson campus.

Sheldon Jackson College was founded as a mission school to Native children in 1878. Over the years it became a boarding high school, then a junior college during WWII, and finally a four-year college. The high school closed in 1966, and the college closed in 2007.

The closure was difficult. Like many in Sitka, I wanted to understand what happened - what led up to the disastrous, abrupt closure, and how and why they managed to stay open for so many years. Alice Smith and I began to interview former students and staff on video, for an oral history of Sheldon Jackson School and College.

The story turned out to be much bigger and more complex than I had imagined.

This art installation was for what can only be expressed through an immersive art experience: the story of unreconcilable contradictions. This show was my attempt to present missionary philosophy, the student experience, and the strong emotions after the school closed, in the words of the participants themselves.

The main element was sound - found audio from campus, recorded meetings, and interviews. There was also video, photographs, documents and artifacts.

In 2014 I received a Rasmuson Artist Award to continue work on this project as video version of the art installation.

The story turned out to be so complex, and with so many threads connecting the lives of people today with events in this place, that the project has evolved into a creative non-fiction narrative of the entire history of the school, up to the present day. See the left side bar for a sampling. It includes the chaos of the first military rule in 1867, and the demise of Sitka's First Presbyterian Church, which survived so much only to fall to the ideological divide over gay clergy.

I am learning about how racial bias shaped the experiences of people we've interviewed, and a glimpse of the joys and tragedy of Sitka a generation ago,, and how people I know, both Native and non-Native, my generation and older, perceive and respond to bias. Most of all, I am learning how the interactions of Native and non-Native people was far from the simplistic narrative I had assumed before talking to elders. The actions of Native individuals, missionaries, soldiers,and officials shaped life as we know it today.

 

- Rebecca Poulson