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The Tripp family, owners of Mt. Juneau Trading Post in Juneau, Alaska, have a proud native legacy

by Greg Klupar

8 months ago

For Jack Tripp, an object is more than just an inanimate object.

It’s a memory. It’s a sentimental feeling. It’s a reminder of good things gone by.

“I like buying things from estate sales because the things there are like time capsules,” said Tripp, owner of Tripp’s Mt. Juneau Trading Post in Juneau. “Each time one of these things passes on to another person, it retains a little bit of their soul. It’s been loved and handled. It’s part of them. It gives an inanimate object soul."

“I’m always looking for new stuff. I never stop. It’s like a sickness. I like finding things and bringing them home.”

Tripp said the Northwest Coast Native art sold at the Trading Post is part of the store’s mission to nurture and support Alaska’s native artists. Every item is hand-selected “to ensure quality, workmanship, and distinction.”

“True to our name, the look and feel of our store is like a trading post,” he said. “In addition to our large selection of high-end collectibles, we’re a store where you can come in and spend $14 or $15 on a fossil whale’s tooth or a walrus whisker for $4. If a kid comes in here and gets something like a walrus whisker, he’ll remember that forever.”

The Trading Post is a reflection of Tripp and his family, many of them artists (see Adrew Tripp's handmade totemic jewelry,) who all have been involved with the store for 50 years since his father, Jack, moved from Fairbanks and opened the store in Juneau. The store is located in downtown Juneau in the historic Seward Building near the foot of Mt. Juneau. Tripp took over the store in 1991.

Native art gallery Mt. Juneau Trading Post in Juneau, Alaska

Interior of Mt. Juneau Trading Post in Juneau, Alaska

The store has Southeast Alaska's largest collection of handcrafted Native artwork, and it also offers Alaskan Native scrimshaw, ulu knives, antique native baskets, Inuit ivory, Tlingit drums, totemic design t-shirts, soapstone sculptures and fossil bone sculptures among hundreds of items. The store also offers Eskimo artifacts that are up to 2,000 years old. Every object is special in its own way, Tripp said.

“When I look at a piece, I look at it as a piece of something from each of the people who have lived with it over the years,” he said. “It’s something to remember them by. It isn’t the object itself, it’s the only one like it anywhere and I wouldn’t sell it for anything.”

But there’s something else that makes the store different.

Soul. The soul of the Tripp family and the native art they sell.

“It’s a family store,” said Tripp, who added that six of his seven children work at the store in addition to his wife, Arlene. “I get to be around my kids all day, and they’re very culturally aware.”

That cultural awareness is important to Tripp. The family is of the Tlingit Nation and originated in the Deisheetaan Clan (Raven/Beaver) of Angoon, Alaska. But it is also crucial to the Tripp family that the art of Northwest Natives is preserved.

“It may sound corny but it’s true,” he said. “You have all of these fragile cultures, and things are speeding by and it’s faster and faster, and when these cultures are threatened and there’s no one there to protect them, for me I want to get as much of the art out there as I can, so when a culture is threatened people will value it and want to protect it.”

The store offers artifacts from Athabascan Indians of the vast Interior, Inupiaq of the Northwestern Arctic coasts; Yupik and St. Lawrence Island, Yupik of the Bering Sea coast; Aleuts and Alutiiq people from the Aleutian Islands; and theTlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians often known as Northwest Coastal tribes.

“Northwest Coast native Alaskan and Eskimo art is highly prized,” he said.

Tripp said he has a special love for the Tlingit people, adding that Arlene is Tlingit and that he has been initiated into the tribe himself.

But aside from the family store, Tripp also has a special love for Alaska itself. There is no other place like it.

“I like Alaska because in some ways you’re trapped in a good way in the 1960s,” he said. “Everybody knows everybody’s name. The air is good and I love living near the water. There’s something about being near the water. I like the thought that you’re living in an ancient place. I live on Douglas Island and if I walk a thousand yards out my back door I’m in a primordial forest. It’s such a cool place. How many places are like that any more?”

Tripp is always on the hunt for more new art. But as far as his own collection of objects, they’re personally invaluable and not to be parted with.

“The things in my own collection I could never sell,” he said. “If something has an emotional bond, then it’s very important for me. Each time a thing passes from one person to another it retains a little of its soul. It’s been handled over the years, and it gives inanimate objects soul.”

Jack Tripp at his store Mt. Juneau Trading Post in Juneau, Alaska