Latest News | Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center - Part 2

Athabascan Beadwork Designs Inspire Sidewalk Mosaics

Athabascan beadwork – and a willow root basket – will soon become sidewalk art outside the Morris Thompson Center. Inspired by designs from Athabascan master artists from all over Interior Alaska, the artwork was digitized, enlarged, and translated into glass tile mosaics that are being prepped for installation later this month. Belarde Company out of  Seattle, WA provides a patented process, Lithocrete, which allows for the seeding of small glass tiles in concrete. “The color palette is vibrant enough to do justice to these incredible beadwork designs,” said Cultural Program Director Dixie Alexander. “They look beautiful!” The completed sidewalk mosaics will be 8 ft to 14 ft in diameter.

Designs are inspired by the following artists:

  • Lina Demoski/Anvik
  • Judy Thomas/Northway
  • Mary Simple/Ft. Yukon
  • Master Artists working on the Athabascan clothing project for Tanana Chiefs Conference
  • Unknown artist from the Tanana area – from a slipper in the UA Museum of the North collection


Love Under the Antler Arch

Brian and Marilyn wed under the Antler Arch

Outgoing News-Miner publisher Marilyn Romano and her longtime beau Brian Hove got married under the Morris Thompson Center’s Antler Arch in late June. Romano was relocating for her new position at Alaska Airlines, and wanted to get married in Fairbanks before moving to Anchorage. “Brian and I met here 13 years ago, so the banks of the Chena River was perfect,” said Romano. “We love the Alaskan feel of the antler arch.”

The Antler Arch Web Cam made it easy to involve her family in Texas on short notice. She called and told them to check out the website, but didn’t tell them why. “They were all surprised and happy to be able to watch us get married on the ‘Antler Cam’ – and the tourists loved it!” said Romano.

If you want to coordinate your own special moment under the arch, tell your family and friends around the world to go to and click on the Antler Arch link.

Traditional Athabascan Clothing Project

In the Artisans Workshop, master artists Josephine John, Corinna Evans, Denise Hardesty, Rita Pitka and Dixie Alexander are busy sewing a set of traditional Athabascan clothing. Stunning beadwork, moosehide, wolf, muskrat, wolverine and beaver fur, combined with master skin sewing skills, lots of laughter, and sore fingers are yielding the following creations:

  • Yukon Style Women’s Muskrat Parka
  • Yukon Style Child Size Parka
  • Traditional Dress
  • Moose Skin Chiefs Coat
  • Moose Skin Vest
  • Large and small Beaver Skin Hat
  • Large and small Beaver gloves

Beginning June 1st, visitors to the Center will be able to dress their entire family in these beautiful creations and take home a family portrait on CD. $65 per family for a 15-minute portrait session.

Flying Bishop’s Plane Graces Center’s Lobby

More than 250 family and friends of the late Bishop William Gordon gathered in October 2010 to dedicate the plane and exhibit installed in his honor. They sang hymns in Inupiat and Athabascan dialects, laughed, and shared warm memories with the Bishop’s wife Shirley and their children Bill, Paneen, and Anna who were all on hand for the dedication.

Bishop Gordon arrived in Alaska in 1943. During his 30 years of service, the Bishop logged hundreds of thousands of air miles ministering to congregations throughout the state. The sound of his plane buzzing a community became a frequent and welcome greeting. “We weren’t excited about church, we were excited about donuts,” joked the Rev. Anna Frank.

“He loved his work and the people he met along the way,” said his wife Shirley. “And he was loved in return.” We hope the sight of the Bishop’s plane hanging in our lobby reminds those who visit the Center to celebrate and strengthen the ties that bind Alaska’s diverse people.

A special Friends of the Flying Bishop plaque will list the names of businesses and individuals who make a donation to the Center in honor of the Bishop. For more information, call 907.459.3701 or email

Morris Thompson Portrait Unveiled

Morris’ family and friends gathered at an AFN reception in October 2010 to see the unveiling of a portrait of the Center’s namesake. Athabascan artist James Grant, Sr., a nephew of Thompson’s started the oil on canvas portrait in 2008. The 5 ft. by 4 ft. oil on canvas painting was nearly complete when Grant died of cancer in April 2010. The portrait was completed by Yupik artist Moses “Uksuq” Wassilie, a favorite artist of Thompson who had also painted a portrait of Morris’ wife Thelma.

Completion of the hand-carved cedar frame also has a familial connection. James Grant’s brother, Jay Schrock, is an accomplished wood carver who often worked side-by-side with Grant on his art projects. Schrock completed the frame based on his brother’s original plans. Hand-carved flowers representative of Athabascan beadwork, a traditional Chief’s necklace, and a painted scene from Thompson’s hometown of Tanana adorn the cedar frame.

Morris’ daughter Nicole attending the unveiling and offered these thoughts.  “I’ve heard stories in my life about my father. The one that sticks out the most was when he was a little boy. Kids would come by and ask him if he wanted to go play outside, and he’d say, ‘No, I’m going to read books because I’m going to be a big man some day.’ That [story] is my favorite. His perseverance, humor, work ethic, and his love for life is his legacy.”

Mt. McKinley Bank donates $15,000

“The bank was impressed with how the Center serves the entire community. It’s not just about tourists. Everyone can use and enjoy the facility. As a community bank, that’s something that we are happy to be a part of.” said Mt. McKinley Bank President Craig Ingham as he presented a donation of $15,000.

Athabascan Artist Dixie Alexander named Cultural Program Director

Dixie AlexanderTanana Chiefs Conference has hired Gwich’in Athabascan Dixie Alexander as Director of Cultural Programs at the Morris Thompson Center. Dixie, one of 12 children, was raised in Ft. Yukon in a traditional lifestyle. She is a successful businesswoman, artist, and teacher. She spent more than 20 summers sharing her Athabascan culture with tourists at the Riverboat Discovery’s native village. Her traditional artwork can be found in collections worldwide, including the UA Museum of the North and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Dixie was a key advisor in planning and creating the Center’s exhibits. “Dixie’s deep knowledge and passion for sharing Athabascan art and culture with everyone she meets makes her uniquely suited for this essential position.” Said lead exhibit designer Bianca Message, President, André & Associates. “ Dixie’s contribution helped provide crucial insights into the development of both the storyline and the exhibits.”

“Big’s place needs to be a place where you see Alaska native people,” said Alexander. “ Elders, dancers, storytellers, bead workers, skin sewers, carvers, basket makers, moose skin tanners, doll makers…all demonstrating their craft, learning from each other, teaching an appreciation for our way of life. It’s my dream to bring a vibrant program to life and to help make my fellow Athabascans proud of the investment TCC has made in the Morris Thompson Center.”

Morris Thompson Center Supplies Healthy Vegetables to Stone Soup Cafe

The historic garden near the entrance to the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center features vegetables common in Fairbanks a century ago, but it serves a much more contemporary purpose–helping feed those in need. Facility manager Jason Faris harvests and delivers two boxes of fresh vegetables every week to the Stone Soup Cafe. “Earlier in the summer it was lettuce, cauliflower, swiss chard, radishes and lots and lots of herbs,” said Faris. “Now it’s kale, cabbage, chicory. Today I took over 25 pounds of potatoes.” It’s a welcome contribution according to Mary Mitchell, cafe chef and manager. “The volume of large leafy greens are highly appreciated,” said Mitchell. The Stone Soup Café has been providing hot, nutritious meals daily to Fairbanks’ hungry and homeless for over 20 years.

Kinross/Ft. Knox Shows its Support with $10,000 donation

Lorna Shaw (3rd from left), Community Affairs Director with Kinross/Ft. Knox Gold Mine, presents a $10,000 gift to Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center President Charlene Marth (2nd from left). The gift is to help complete the exhibits. “One part of the exhibits focuses on how we make a living – and mining is a signficant part of that story.” said Shaw. “We are proud to be a part of telling the story of how we make a living in Interior Alaska.” Also pictured here are Deb Hickok, Pam Rice and Cindy Schumaker.

How tall does your Sunflower grow?

At 8 ft, 3 inches tall (and still growing), the sunflower next to the historic cabin at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center in downtown Fairbanks is a hit with visitors. It is surely the most photographed flower in Fairbanks this summer.

Explore Fairbanks staffers Ginessa Peter, Corrine Jankowski, Ashley Ritenour, Helen Renfrew and Kasey Gillam show off our giant sunflower.

Explore Fairbanks staffers Ginessa Peter, Corrine Jankowski, Ashley Ritenour, Helen Renfrew and Kasey Gillam show off our giant sunflower.