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Voznsensky, Ilya Gavrilovich

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Voznesensky (1816-1871) began his working career at age of five as an apprentice of a type-setter in the Academy of Science printing shop. During the next decade, he developed an interest in zoology and became an assistant preparator at the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg. His diligence and performance during the museum’s 1829-1830 expedition to Caucasus were noticed, and in 1839 he was appointed to lead an expedition to Russian America with the instruction to collect plant, animal and ethnographic materials. On August 20, 1839 Voznesensky left St. Petersburg on the ship Nikolai I. Adolf Etholin, the new chief manager of the Russian colonies traveled to Alaska on the same ship. The ship arrived to Sitka on May 1st, 1840 and Voznesensky immediately set to work. His first expedition was to Fort Ross. The decision to sell this Russian outpost added a sense of urgency to the task of accumulating scientific collections from California. Voznesensky arrived at Bodega Bay on July 20 and remained in California for fifteen months. Soon after his return to Sitka he made the second voyage to California, this time to Carmel Island and Loreto. From March of 1841 to October 1848, Voznesensky made several trips to different parts of Alaska, visiting Kodiak Island, Kenai, Unalaska, Pribilov Islands, St. Michael, and Kotzebue Sound, and returning to the Russian-American Company headquarters in Sitka. He was assigned a helper, talented creole Filat Druzhinin, who may be the author of the watercolor titled “drawn by a Native Kolosh of Sitka” in Voznesensky collection.

In June of 1849, Voznesensky returned to St. Petersburg with 3,687 specimen, which included ethnographic objects and images. Although not trained as an artist, Voznesensky was a skilled draftsman and keen observer. His pencil images are both detailed and artistic. The Academy of science recognized Voznesensky’s achievements by appointing him a Curator of the Zoological Museum. The new responsibilities made the task of sorting and publishing his Alaskan collections virtually impossible, and Voznesensky did not have time to write an account of his travel. None of his images were published during his life time. In 1858, he married and had a daughter. Three years after the wedding his wife died and Voznesensky raised his daughter alone until 1871 when he himself died after a long illness. Despite the lack of scientific publications, his input in North America scientific research had a lasting legacy. His collections, curated at the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography and Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, continue contributing to our understanding of cultural and natural history of California and Alaska.

Sources and literature:

Alekseev, A. I. The Odyssey of a Russian Scientist: I. G. Voznesenskii in Alaska, California, and Siberia, 1839-1849. Translated by Wilma C. Follette. Kingston, Ont., Canada: Limestone Press, 1987.

Blomkvist, E. E. Risunki I.G. Voznesenskogo [Drawings of I.G. Voznesenski], Sbornik Muzeya Antropologii i Etnografii XII (1951): 230-303.

Blomkvist, E. E. A Russian Scientific Expedition to California and Alaska, 1839-1849. Article translated by B. Dmytryshyn and E. A. P. Crownhart-Vaughan. Oregon Historical Quarterly 73 (1972): 101-170.

Feklova, Tatyana Y. The Expedition of Ilya G. Voznesesnsky to Russian America in 1839-1849 and the Formation of the American Collection in St. Petersburg Academic Museums. Acta Baltica Historiae et Philosophae Scientiarum 2 (2014):44-69.

Hudson, Travis and Bates, Craig D. A Superb Collector Visits California: Il'ia G. Voznesenskii. Treasures from Native California: The Legacy of Russian Exploration. Left Coast Press, 2015, pp. 47–50.

Korsun, Sergei. Dena’ina Collections in the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Dena'inaq' Huch'ulyeshi: the Dena'ina Way of Living. Edited by by Suzi Jones, James Fall, and Aaron Leggett. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2013.

Pierce, Richard. Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. The Limestone Press, Kingston, Ontario and Fairbanks, Alaska,1990.