When Ed Rasmuson took to the stage on Saturday, May 22 to celebrate the completion of the latest expansion of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, it was a culminating moment in the decades-long vision of the Rasmuson family to build a great museum for all Alaskans.

When Ed Rasmuson took to the stage on Saturday, May 22 to celebrate the completion of the latest expansion of the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, it was a culminating moment in the decades-long vision of the Rasmuson family to build a great museum for all Alaskans.

Mary Louise-large

Seated in the front row during the opening ceremony, in the atrium named in her honor, was Mary Louise Rasmuson. Stalwart champions of the arts, Mary Louise and Elmer Rasmuson were involved with the Anchorage Museum since its inception.

In 1966, then-Mayor Elmer brought together a group of interested friends and colleagues to build a museum that would serve as a cultural inspiration for visitors and residents. The Anchorage Museum opened its doors two years later on July 18, 1968, with a collection of borrowed paintings and items from the Cook Inlet Historical Society. Mary Louise was appointed chair of the Museum’s first advisory council and later the Municipality of Anchorage’s Historical and Fine Arts Commission, where she served until 1989. She was instrumental in several expansion projects and served as the head of the Anchorage Museum Foundation, which was central in raising funds needed to complete the renovations that opened this month. In addition, to celebrate his 90th birthday in 1998, Elmer Rasmuson gave $50 million to upgrade the museum. (Click here for a full timeline of the expansion.)

Ed Rasmuson has continued to support the Anchorage Museum and the expansion efforts, as have Ed’s sisters and fellow Rasmuson Foundation board members Lile Gibbons and Judy Rasmuson. Ed serves as chairman of the Museum Foundation, as well as on the building and expansion committees. Watch Ed Rasmuson’s May 22 remarks celebrating the Museum opening below.

One of the many highlights of the expanded Museum is the new Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center,  which offers a beautiful blending of technology and antiquities.  The Anchorage Museum’s relationship with the Smithsonian Institution stretches back to 1993 when the Municipality of Anchorage signed an agreement with the National Museum of Natural History to establish the Arctic Studies Program, the first partnership of its kind with a local museum. Elmer Rasmuson served on the NMNH board from 1994-1997. Secretary Wayne G. Clough of the Smithsonian Institution was on hand on Saturday, May 22 to celebrate the opening.

In keeping with Elmer’s vision, Ed Rasmuson quoted George Brown Goode, a former curator of the Smithsonian, that “a finished museum is a dead museum and a dead museum is a useless museum.”  Toward that end, Rasmuson Foundation will continue investing in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.

Grass dress

To close May 22’s ceremony, Rasmuson Foundation CEO and President Diane Kaplan presented the Museum with a contemporary grass-woven parka by Lena Atti, a 90-year-old artist who creates grass undergarments, socks and mittens.  Lena is an artist and craftswoman from Kwingillingok, who is teaching her daughters and grandchildren to continue the craft of grass garment making. The parka is one of only three known in existence—and one of two completed by Lena. Her second grass parka is in a private collection. The third grass parka known to exist was collected in the early 1900s by Bethel trader A. H. Twitchell and today is in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Rasmuson Foundation looks forward to many more new and exciting exhibits at the institution that shares our family namesake, as well as celebrates the beauty and heritage of our Great State.

Have you been to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center recently? Tell us your favorite experience here.