Kenai guild creates new market for local arts and crafts
Nestled in a plaza with a hair salon and pull tabs store in the heart of Kenai, there's a new home for artists and crafters from across the Kenai Peninsula.
Karen Trulove opened the Alaskan Artisans and Crafters Guild in May. Trulove is an artist who said she has a penchant for entrepreneurship. She’s also a seventh-generation Seldovian and a traditional healer with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.
Trulove opened the guild to address what she saw as a lack of opportunities for local and Alaska Native artists to market their work on the peninsula. She said it was easy to find artists who wanted to sell work at her store.
“I actually advertised one time on Facebook, and I had about 63 people reach out within 24 hours, so I was like well, this might be a needed thing in our community,” she said.
The store currently carries work from about 80 artists, most of them local to the Kenai Peninsula. There’s furs, beadwork, photography, watercolor, dishware, ornaments, endless jewelry and pieces that defy categorization.
In the shop, Trulove pointed out soaps made of goat milk from Nikiski, wrapped in pastoral alpaca fur casings that make them their own washcloth. She said that's one item that’s often sold out. Nearby were glass ornaments made of sand from the Homer Spit and kuspuks, both regular-size and doll-sized, designed to fit on American Girl dolls. There was also locally carved ivory, drums made by kids from the Salamatof Native Association and beaded earrings galore.
Trulove said the purpose of the store is to create a reliable year-round venue for local artists.
“In the wintertime, it’s tough because we don’t have a lot of craft fairs. We have a few, but it’s not like the Wednesday Market or Saturday Farmers Market,” she said. “Sometimes people are busy in the summertime. They’re out trying to get their fish in, family’s visiting, and they don’t have time to sell their items. So it’s really nice to be able to bring them into a local store, drop their stuff off, and we handle everything from there, and get them a check at the end of each month.”
She said there’s also a new community of artists in the area, who realized they had a talent for crafting during the pandemic and are newly selling their wares.
“Since COVID, when everyone was in their homes, not able to get out, I think a lot of people figured out that they actually have a talent. And they’re starting to make a lot of new items,” Trulove said. “And it’s good, because our community needs that. And a lot of our local businesses closed during COVID, so it’s nice that we have the support from the community to help a little bit of everyone.”
Trulove said she’s planning on having auction-style events in the future to support local youth organizations.
The guild has also brought a new face to downtown Kenai: a 14-foot-bigfoot statue that sits right off the Kenai Spur Highway. Trulove made the cutout bigfoot herself with her husband, and they may start selling them if there’s an interest.
She said the reception to the store has been good so far, from both locals and tourists.
“Sometimes we get busloads, literally,” she said. “We’ve had like 35 people in here, where a bus just pulls up and people come in.”
The guild is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, except when employees are participating in craft fairs or markets. Trulove said there’s a trick: if the bigfoot is out, the store is open. That means every day, she drags the bigfoot back into the shop, where it covers the entire floor and sleeps among the crafts.