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Expedition North Pole: New Kensington surgeon brings home artistry of Inuit culture

May 31, 2016

Filed under Anthropology and Archaeology, Archaeology Collections, Collections, Pennsylvania Treasures

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John W. Goodsell collected these Inuit figurines while on an expedition to the North Pole.

John W. Goodsell, a native of Westmoreland County, found that the Inuit people were skilled artists who carved miniature figurines, many of which remain on exhibit at The State Museum, from the ivory tusks of narwhals and walruses.

More than 100 years ago, the race to claim the North Pole was a significant feat which many had tried, but none had succeeded. The opportunity to join Admiral Robert Peary’s 1908-1909 expedition was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a young physician from western Pennsylvania.

Doctor John W. Goodsell (1873-1949), a native of New Kensington, Westmoreland County, joined Peary on his final expedition which culminated in the raising of the U.S. flag at the North Pole on April 6, 1909. Goodsell served the expedition as a surgeon and scientist collecting biological samples. He also managed one of several dog sled teams. Goodsell recorded the ethnographic history of the Smith Sound Inuit, the native people of northern Greenland, who were an essential part of the expedition’s staff. His early scientific investigations of the flora and fauna of this region were considered significant contributions to the global scientific community.

Goodsell collected artifacts crafted by this native culture. The Inuit were skilled artists who carved miniature figurines, many of which remain on exhibit at The State Museum, from the ivory tusks of narwhals and walruses. These figures were crafted during the long, dark winter season to serve as toys for children.

Please visit The State Museum’s Hall of Anthropology & Archaeology to view these figurines and to learn more about Goodsell and the Inuit culture.

This edition of Pennsylvania Treasures was written by Janet Johnson, Curator, Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.