The Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center will soon be known as the Haines Museum and Cultural Center after the board of trustees approved a name change on Wednesday. The museum has been confused with other institutions with similar names since it was founded in the early ‘80s. To avoid further confusion, the board decided to the make the switch.
Dropping the name Sheldon from the official title of the museum has been a long time coming, according to director Helen Alten. And, she says, there are a few reasons why.
Steve Sheldon and his wife Elisabeth came to Haines in the early 1900s and were avid collectors and prominent citizens. Their pieces, which range from historic relics to Tlingit crafts and artifacts, were donated to the community by their daughters and formed the core exhibit at the museum.
Alten says the change is not a slight on the family collection that started it all. The motives are mostly to avoid confusion.
“One of the things we want to emphasize is that we don’t want to insult or have our founders families feel like we’re turning our backs on our roots,” she says. “We are still a collection that was founded by the Hakkinens using the Sheldon collection and those roots are very important to us.”
The museum in Haines is often mixed up with the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka with important information getting confused. She says that misunderstanding is something the Haines institute has been fighting since it was founded. They also get confused with a Sheldon Museum of Art in Nebraska, which can affect federal resources.
Alten says that visitors to Haines often have no name recognition when it comes to the Sheldon Museum. And while she’s expecting some resistance to the new development, in the end, it’s the best decision for the organization and the community, she says.
“I think some people may feel very strongly against it because the Sheldon Museum has always been our museum. But I noticed in most of the advertising that people do on the radio or in the newspaper, they always refer to us as the museum, so I had the suggestion that we just call ourselves the Museum of Haines, but the board thought that that would be difficult for other museums in Haines so we should call ourselves the Haines Museum.”
Alten says that the museum has grown beyond the Sheldon collection and incorporates artifacts and displays from around the region. The board still wants to honor the founders and will consider a different gesture such as naming the building after the Sheldons.
One board member voted down the motion, but the five were in favor on Wednesday.
The one board member opposed to the new name wanted it instead to be called Dei-Shu, which means end of the trail, and was a common meeting place for the Tlingit people. Using Chilkat Valley in the new title was also discussed, but was decided that there might be some confusion with the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Center in Klukwan.
The Haines Museum is clear and succinct, and offers little room for mix-ups, Alten says.
“It’s a relief in some ways but it’s also opening up a whole new set of issues or work plans for us. I mean, we have to change our marketing campaigns and our signage so there’s a lot of work in that transition that’s going to happen. But it is a relief because I feel that it does more clearly express who we are.”
Over the coming weeks and months, the museum will work on making the switch to the Haines Museum and Cultural Center.