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UMaine to return cultural artifact to Alaskan tribes, create replica using 3D printing

Engineers, artists, and even a museum are working to give an artifact back to the Alaskan tribes it somehow disappeared from in the early 20th century.

ORONO, Maine — Hundreds of indigenous artifacts can be found at the Hudson Museum's collection at the University of Maine at Orono. 

But a 19th-century clan helmet carved of yellow cedar, painted in green and red pigments and decorated with abalone shell discs, is the one object sticking out among the rest. 

The object, a frog clan helmet, is being sent back to where it belongs. 

"We have a request from the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska to repatriate this object to the community,” Hudson Museum Director Gretchen Faulkner said. 

The helmet and other artifacts were donated to UMaine in 1982 by the estate of William P. Palmer III, who was a collector of the objects.

Native American communities can request certain artifacts taken from their ancestral lands or owners be returned thanks to a 1990 federal law.   

Faulkner told NEWS CENTER Maine she worked with the Tlingit and Haida Tribes to get approval to try to create a 3D-printed replica of the helmet before they return it. The museum's goal is to keep a version of the helmet in Orono for educational purposes.

"This project is a prototype," Faulkner said. "It's to understand what's involved in the process and will help create protocols for future replication projects with indigenous communities."

In collaboration with UMaine's Advanced Structures and Composites Center and Intermedia Program, the museum received a $14,600 seed grant from the UMaine Arts Initiative for this project. 

Alex Cole is one of the research engineers at UMaine tasked with creating a digital version of the artifact. 

"You have to scan it, clean it up a little bit in the model, and then send that to a 3D printer," Cole said. "We're extremely pleased with the outcome."

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Reed Hayden and Anna Martin are graduate students from UMaine’s intermedia program and will be responsible for making the replica look like the actual artifact. 

"I’m actually the step between the printing of the artifact and the painting," said Hayden, who will smooth out the lines on the replica helmet caused by the 3D printer. "Just getting it to look more like the artifact.” 

Faulkner said the frog clan helmet original and replica are expected to be the focus of an exhibit at the museum in Orono this July. Sometime after, the original will be sent back home to Alaska. 

According to Faulkner, the museum has 59 objects that are culturally affiliated with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.

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