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The Interwoven History of the Friends and the Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum

On June 6, 1900, an Act of Congress created the Alaska Territorial Library and Museum to collect, preserve and exhibit objects from the territory of Alaska. 

The library and museum’s first curator from 1920-1940 and “true founding father,” according to Senator Dennis Egan, was Father Andrew Petrovich Kashevaroff (1863-1940), a Russian Orthodox priest of Russian and Alutiiq ancestry, who devoted his life to preserving Alaskan history and culture. In 1919, Territorial Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr. appointed Kashevaroff territorial librarian and curator. In 1920 Kashevaroff moved the collection from Governor Rigg’s closet and an old Russian warehouse in Sitka to Juneau’s Arctic Brotherhood building, later to the Capitol and the Masonic Temple. He also created the Alaska Historical Society, and, with missionary zeal, used his family’s Native and Russian connections to acquire hundreds of Russian publications and objects as well as thousands of Alaska Native artifacts. The small priest made a huge footprint in Alaska.

In 1967, in honor of the centennial of the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia, the citizens of Juneau implemented a one percent sales tax to help fund a building dedicated to the museum. Juneau gave the museum to the state of Alaska. 

The Friends of the Alaska State Museum was established as a nonprofit organization in 1968 to support the state museum. The organization operated the Alaska State Museum Store, raised funds for museum programs, sponsored special events and activities for children and families, mailed newsletters, financed a lobbyist, and educated the public and state legislators about the museum’s mission and programs. 

When the 1967 museum leaked, threatening the collections, a new building opened June 6, 2016, housing the combined Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum. The Legislature honored Father Andrew P. Kashevaroff by naming the building after its “true founding father.” 

With the opening of the new combined facilities in 2016, the Friends transformed into the Friends of the Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum. The nonprofit organization continues to raise funds to support library, archives and museum programs, educate the public, host special events, provide honorariums for guest speakers and artists, receive grants and tax-deductible donations for purchase of objects and fine arts, but no longer operates the museum store.


Who was Andrew P. Kashevaroff?

 Born in Kodiak in 1863, Andrew Petrovch Kashevaroff was educated in San Franscisco where he ordained a Russian Orthodox Church priest. From 1912 to his death in 1940, he traveled via kayak, dog sled, boat, or airplane from his homes in Sitka, Kodiak, Killisnoo, Unalaska and Juneau, truly a “Bush” priest.

He married Martha Bolshanin, a Kiks.adi Tlingit from Sitka, had a son and five daughters, then moved from Sitka to Juneau’s St. Nicholas Church in 1913. When the the Russian government suspended his salary during the 1917 Russian Revolution, Kashevaroff, a gifted violinist, pianist and organist) supported his family by working as a music teacher, weather bureau clerk, and customs officer in addition to his unpaid duties as a priest. In 1919, Territorial Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr. appointed him territorial librarian and curator. Kashevaroff loved library and museum work so much he declined the prestigious rank of Bishop of Alaska. Tlingit friends affectionately called him Aandanei which means Works On the Land. 

Recognized as a leading authority on Alaska, he was a popular author and speaker, the only person “who is competent to speak of Alaska, for he knows it from start to finish, personally,” according to the Fairbanks Daily News Miner.

His interests were diverse, spanning the gamut from Alaska Native word usage and customs to petroglyphs, baskets, eagle extinction, and an alleged, but not true, penal colony on Chirikof Island. He chronicled the history of Sitka’s old buildings, including St. Michael’s Cathedral, and of the Russian Fort Ross in Northern California. He advocated sobriety on Prince of Wales Island, saved the Alaskan Russian Orthodox Churches from seizure by Moscow, lamented the passing of potlatch customs, and lauded local efforts to save Sitka’s historic cemetery. He visited hospitals, talking with children about Eskimos. He promoted Alaska, telling the San Francisco Bulletin in 1924 that Alaska rivaled Switzerland in beauty.

“Father Kashevaroff Pleases Audiences” was the Anchorage Daily Times headline. A featured speaker at Alaska Days, PTAs, graduations, he was invited to speak at the 1934 British International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, a prestigious scientific organization. The 1930 Juneau High School yearbook, Totem, was dedicated to him.
Could be sidebars:

Well-known humorist Will Rogers wrote, “There is a little Russian man...Father Kashevaroff…He has made a great study of Alaskan customs, relics, languages, its history, and everything, and if ever a fellow fit in a museum, it’s him in this one.” 

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, published May 21, 1960, about a Juneau visit in 1930, said, “Our favorite refuge from the rains was the Territorial Museum, whose most interesting ‘exhibit’ was its curator, Father A. P. Kashevaroff. There was an old-world charm about him that seemed incongruous in that lusty mining town. His dark, clerical garb accentuated his snow-white Van Dyke. He was small and retiring, but to talk with him for a minute was to feel the force of an extraordinary personality.”

Tlingit elder Marie Olson remembers the smell of incense, the Slavonic Divine Liturgy, songs translated into Tlingit, her brother falling asleep on the floor, standing for what seemed like hours in the octagonal St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox church and listening to Father Kashevaroff’s pleasing voice. “Others preached hellfire and brimstone, but he didn’t,” she said. “He tried to know our language. Father Kashevaroff spoke to Tlingit people in Tlingit, to Slavic miners in Russian, and in English. “I thought all ministers were like that,” she said, “but I found out they’re not.”