Jim Kunkle worked with Tri State Tool for over 30 years before he retired a few years ago, 25 of those years spent working here in Alaska and living in Nikiski. He recalls being in Seward when he bought his first five cared ivory pieces, “From then on I guess I got the fever and it was just buy, buy, buy. Some of the carvers I got to know personally like the guy from Savoonga who did those dog teams, he’s dead now and I haven’t seen anyone can carve like he could, it’s an art that isn’t being equaled anymore,” Kunkle recently told the Dispatch while visiting his collection with his grandson who lives in Washington D.C. When Kunkle retired to his great-grandfathers 76 acre farm in Pennsylvania a few years back he insisted the collection stay in Alaska as a collection. One of his favorite pieces is caribou herd being attacked by a wolf pack, “Look at that wolf going for the throat of the caribou, it looks like it’s really happening its so life like, you don’t see that kind of detail anymore,” he said.
The Kunkle collection has some 90 pieces that Jim has put together over the last quarter century, “The ivory is from Alaska, the carvers are Alaskan and the scenes are of Alaska. People in Pennsylvania like horse and buggies and don’t know anything about a dog team, I like Alaskans and visitors here to see this Alaskan art,” he said. According to Tami Murray, executive director for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and visitor center the collection has had a few homes, starting out at First National Bank in Kenai, “Kunkle would stop by himself to make sure the water dish was full in the case, (ivory needs humidity or it will crack). After a few years it was moved to the Kenai Cultural Center and in October of 2013 it was moved here to Soldotna. Jim calls the visitor center a few times a month to check on his collection and to chat about what is happening in Soldotna, he loves Alaska but his heart is in Creekside Pennsylvania on his family farm. He visits every couple years, spending a few weeks catching up with friends while coming into the visitor center daily (if he can) to visit with the collection. He can remember details about each piece, who he purchased them from and why. It’s fun to talk with ‘Kunkle’ his stories about his collection and his time in Alaska are amazing. We’re happy to have it here to share with visitors, it tells an Alaskan story that I hope will never be lost,” said Murray.