Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Marvin Peter's Biography

MP305-6.gifMarvin Saġvan Peter (1911-1962) used a camera to record the lives of his own people in Barrow from the 1930s to the 1960s. Marvin was the son of reindeer herder Peter Takkak and Betsy Qaaqattak of Nuvuk (Point Barrow), and brother of Ida Numnik, Olive Kanayurak, and John Peter. The photographic imagery Marvin Peter left provides the valuable Iñupiaq perspective on Barrow during a period of great transition. It is a visual record of his intimate connection to the land and its people.

Marvin Peter is fondly remembered by many people in Barrow for always having a camera around his neck. It is not known exactly where he learned about taking and developing pictures. He may have learned from Dr. Greist, a medical missionary in Barrow from 1920 to 1936, who was himself an avid photographer and with whom Marvin Peter sometimes stayed. On the other hand, Marvin Peter's sister did say that photography ran in their family. Their uncle Martin Sakiq, who died when Marvin Peter was young, also had a camera.

Bsktclas.gifMarvin Peter was also well known as an expert baleen basket weaver. He even taught this skill to the children in school. Pauline Burkher, a teacher in Barrow from 1937 to 1945, remembered that he invented a basket-weave which the young students could easily manage. Barrow elder Harry Brower, Sr. remembered enjoying Marvin Peter's class: "We liked going to his class. We could speak Eskimo in Marvin's class." He also recalled Marvin Peter teaching them traditions from Nuvuk. Marvin Peter's grandnephew, Danny Matumeak, who also learned from him recalled: "Marvin taught me to look at things differently. I am proud to have learned from him."

Marvin Peter was ill when he was young, possibly with polio or rheumatic fever, which left him with a limp. He walked with a cane in town and with crutches when out on the beach or tundra. His crippled leg prevented him from participating in whaling, but he helped with walrus and caribou hunting to obtain a share of meat, and hunted ducks near Point Barrow with his brother. Although a life-long bachelor, Marvin Peter always shared food with his sisters and extended family. Between hunting, making baleen baskets, and taking and developing photographs he was kept busy. As his sister Ida said, "He was always working on something."