The family of the late Tlingit traditional scholar and master storyteller Cyril George, Sr. has donated a vast photo collection to Sealaska Heritage Institute that documents 75 years of Alaska Native life and history, SHI announced.
Most of the images were taken by George, a prolific photographer for most of his life.
The gift includes an estimated 4,000 images, and it is thought to be the largest collection of photographs made by a Tlingit person, SHI said in a news release. The donation was made official at a transfer ceremony last week at SHI’s clan house, where his granddaughter, Lillian Woodbury, spoke on behalf of Goerge’s family.
“Cyril had a love of people and enjoyed capturing special moments. Had a knack for it. He was a natural. That love has carried over onto me and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Woodbury said. “We recently learned how big the collection was and that it spanned over 75 years. What a gift for not just ourselves but for others as well. His passion will live on and benefit generations to come.”
SHI President Rosita Worl echoed that statement during the ceremony.
“Our people will be thanking Cyril George for recording our history through photographs for many, many generations,” Worl said. “Cyril George is going to live on through the centuries. He will be with us through his work.”
The donation was facilitated by Kathy Kolkhorst Ruddy, a longtime friend of the family and the attorney who executed George’s estate. Most of the photos depict people, boats, meetings and basketball games, and the collection includes many images that document meetings of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, through which people championed Native civil rights, she said in the release.
The collection, which dates to the 1920s, remained small over the years, then “exploded” from the 1960s through the 1990s, she said. It took five years to settle the estate, Kolkhorst Ruddy said in the release, and she called the photo collection the jewel of George’s Western possessions.
About five years ago, the photos were laid out at the annual Sharing Our Knowledge conference, where hundreds of people helped to identify the individuals depicted in the images, Kolkhorst Ruddy said in the release. That work will greatly enhance the public’s ability to find photos of specific people.
SHI staff is currently cataloging the collection, according to SHI, and it will be made available to the public.