Ketchikan entrepreneur inspired by home
March 2019 —
Matt Hamilton strolls through a miserable southeast Alaska storm with a portable speaker. Life is good though the weather is bad. Since the bridge to nowhere (the airport) wasn’t built, he situates the speaker under the protection of the tunnel at the top of the ramp that leads to Ketchikan’s airport ferry from nowhere.
As the ferry approaches with the Region V champion boys basketball, girls basketball and cheerleading teams aboard, the tunnel explodes with “We are the Champions” the popular Queen song that’s become the anthem of winning. Hamilton doles out high-5s to everyone, random parents included.
When the boys basketball team returned home with the state championship on a sunny Sunday afternoon two weeks later, the speaker was strapped to the top of his car and the song on repeat.
As an entrepreneur, Hamilton knows people are likely motivated to buy him as much as his product, so being connected to his market is important. But the stink of disingenuous acts is easy to for customers to smell.
Hamilton claims Ketchikan. It’s not just the place where he lives, so he feels a duty to represent, help and otherwise be part of the community. He’s a seventh-generation Alaskan so he’s not inspired by Alaska, he’s inspired by home. As many of the Norwegian settlers continued north and established Petersburg — what would become Alaska’s Little Norway — Hamilton’s ancestors settled north of Ward Cove which was not connected to Ketchikan at the time.
But Hamilton is far from the pretentious, reclusive artist hiding in a home, living off the credibility of being a seventh-generation local. He seems to be everywhere.
At 1:33 a.m. one morning, he went to Facebook to address an injustice in the form of a sketch and post:
“I was once told that food trucks are illegal in Ketchikan. This was my artistic response to that information. If you have any info on why please share with me the reasoning.”
It’s not exactly a political rant, but he has been known to get involved on behalf of his fellow residents who he feels are being left out, misrepresented, or otherwise could use another voice. In fact, most of his social media use is not political and is to simply share his “artistic responses” of life in Ketchikan.
While Hamilton is widely known for his art it’s clear that’s not what’s most important to him. Hamilton does his hustle at night after he’s finished with his job at Community Connections and being a father and husband.
Artistically speaking, it wasn’t until he took ownership of his hobby and identified himself as an artist that things took off. (How many readers of this magazine have entrepreneurial aspirations, but have yet to take the first step?). He took to Facebook and sold his art. Hamilton has found his inspiration everywhere now that his artistic eyes have permission. The likeness of rap legends Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube have brought a contemporary feel to his Alaskan art, but he doodles everything from hoochies and smoked salmon to the power linemen and sasquatch. He’s planning murals of locals and local life to decorate Ketchikan.
One of his favorite paintings is of a float plane meandering between wooded mountains that had water damage in the corner so he added, “A happy little Death Star” doing his best Bob Ross voice.
“One night left”
Rather than see the packaged brochure of a place, Hamilton lives by a different motto whenever he travels. “If I had one night left, what am I going to go eat, what am I going to go drink and who do I need to go talk to?”
While Hamilton doesn’t necessarily enjoy the early fog horns of cruise ships heading through the narrows in front of his home, or the crowded streets downtown, he’s always ready to be an ambassador, volunteering to be that guy someone needs to talk to.
One year he met three guys downtown who shared his travel philosophy. Hamilton called into work, said he was taking the rest of the day off and took the guys around Ketchikan. As if the universe was rewarding the four, Hamilton (who, like most Alaskans, keeps fishing gear in his truck) snagged king salmon in Herring Cove — which caught the eye of local black bears, much to the delight of the visitors. He then proceeded to take them around town — the local tour from a local guy not a seasonal guide.
But it’s not about hubris or stroking the ego. If that was the motivation, he would not have made the type of impression that had the guys checking in on him after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in November of 2018. There’s something infectious about the attitude that goes beyond being some dude you met once.
Everyone is a potential customer, yes, but if they are people first, that could make all the difference.
Alaska is beautiful and inviting, so it attracts many opportunistic entrepreneurs and business owners to take whatever Alaska can give them. Writers, photographers, filmmakers and artists make their pilgrimages to pen, shoot or record their contribution to the Alaskan anthology and return to the Lower 48.
For Hamilton, art about the Alaskan life is something that he does, it’s not who he is. He is not a taker because he knows how much Alaska has already given and how precious it is, specifically his home of Ketchikan.
“I really don’t care about money, but I do care about how my family is treated and how I’m being treated. There’s a social equity.”
He says he will always donate time, money and food to the community. His community. Because that’s how he was raised.
“It makes me feel so good, so it feels kinda narcissistic, but it’s not in hopes of getting paid, but that it will echo somewhere in the world. Hopefully someone will take it to heart.”
Jeff Lund is a freelance writer and high school teacher in Ketchikan, Alaska. His podcast The Mediocre Alaskan Podcast is available on iTunes and Spotify.