49 Voices: Bruce Schindler of Skagway

Bruce Schindler of Skagway. (Photo by Abbey Collins, KHNS – Haines)

This week we’re hearing from Bruce Schindler from Skagway. Schindler moved to Alaska in the 90s and is a mammoth ivory carver.

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SCHINDLER: I went to school at the University of Washington, and to pay for school, I fished in the Bering Sea for a couple seasons. And when I graduated, I decided to come to Skagway to drive tours for one summer, and just never really went back. I went back down to Seattle to work that winter, and my friends had moved on, I was no longer a student and I found that I no longer fit in as well as I thought I did. So I came back up here and felt at home, and just made it my home.

When I came here, I discovered ivory carving, and I thought, “That’s a cool hobby.” And so I found a couple of artists who were willing to teach me a few things. I worked for a guy named David Present who had a gallery in town, and I made 600 pairs of earrings that winter, and worked my fingers to a bloody pulp. But it was fine, I was learning and I was very happy. It was the first time that I was able to actually make something that really had value to it.

So you hear you’re buying a product that was made by somebody that you can meet when you’re in Skagway, and it’s a pair of earrings. But the earring has its own story of the animal that went extinct 35,000 years ago, but survived in the alpine tundra for 35,000 years. So there’s the story of the animal, there’s the story of its survival, there’s my story of making it and living in Alaska and there’s the story of the person, their experience when they came to Alaska. And so it has kind of a life of its own, and it’s nice being a link in that.

In Skagway, most people here were not born here. They’re travelers. They graduated from college, came here to drive tours for a summer and eventually they stayed. And so, we’re a population of people who’ve made a conscious choice to make Skagway our home. We take a lot of ownership in this town; we take a lot of pride in this town. And it’s great being a part of a community that knows what it’s about. Yeah… we’re a tourist town, but we’ve got a lot more depth than just selling trinkets in a jewelry store.