Federal officials have fined two Seattle men, accusing them of selling carved soapstone and bone art as Alaska Native-made when it instead came from a Seattle studio.
The Federal Trade Commission said Kurt Tripp, president of Ivory Jack’s Trading Co. Inc., and Ngoc Ly of Northwest Tribal Art Inc. sold the carvings to Alaska art galleries and gift shops and passed them off as being Native-made.
Instead, the FTC said, the carvings were churned out by a studio run by Ly.
Tripp is a major wholesaler in Alaska who sells Native and nonNative items, from soapstone carvings to salmon-skin wallets.
Selling non-Native work as Native-made is a deceptive trade practice, federal regulators said.
Under a settlement with the agency, announced Friday, Tripp, Ly and their companies did not admit any wrongdoing. But the two men agreed to pay $20,000 each and tag every piece of Native-style work with the artist’s real name, where he lives and where he was born.
Ly and Tripp also must tell shops that bought carvings sold under the names of Komok and Lyngoc that it is illegal to sell those as Native-made.
Imitation-Native work is filling Alaska gift shops and making it hard for authentic Native artists to compete with lower-priced, mass-produced items from the Lower 48 and overseas, said attorney Jim Forbes. He’s the former head of the state Consumer Protection office who worked on the case.
But dealers like Tripp who supply the Native-style handicrafts have said that Native artisans and artists simply don’t produce enough to satisfy the huge demand, among tourists and others, for Alaska crafts.
Since 1990, Tripp and Ly sold several thousand soapstone carvings signed with the name of Ron Komok, an Eskimo from Nome, the agency charged. But Komok evidently sold his name to Ly and lived on Seattle’s streets and drank, Dunham said.