I’ve been obsessed with Mt. Everest for years. I follow the expeditions online, read every book I can find, and watch every show and documentary about it that I can. While reading John Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air, I was heartbroken to learn that the place is turning into a garbage dump, littered with thousands of empty oxygen bottles. What does this have to do with “My Cool Job,” you ask?
The answer is Jeff Clapp, an artist who retrieves those discarded oxygen cylinders from the top of the world and recycles them into bells, bowls, and what I think are the coolest tree ornaments ever. I first learned about his company Bells from Everest when I received one of the Everest Ornaments as a gift, and I’ve been a big fan ever since.
Take what you love to do, add your skill and experience, add some concern for the environment, sprinkle in some enthusiasm, and stir well. The result? Cool job! So what is it like to be an environmentally conscious artist? Let’s find out from Jeff:
1) When people ask you “what do you do?” how do you describe your job?
I tell them I am a crazy artist from Maine, chuckle, and then start to tell the story! I call myself an environmental artist inspired to do his little part.
2) What are the things about your job that you love?
I love being able to make my own hours and take control of my life. I love being invited to Walt Disney to display my work and be Jeff Clapp at such a wonderful place. Who gets to inspire others with their life at WDW? I was honored and humbled to be part of the world of imagination for two days. People were lining up for an autograph and to hear the story. Wow! I love making a statement with my life and being able to leave an interesting legacy for my daughter to tell my grandchildren and my great grand children about their crazy grandfather who had to go to the top of the world to pick-up trash.
3) What are the things about your job that you hate?
Waiting. To create something out of nothing is difficult enough but to then develop a market for that something is a lot of work. Artists are usually acknowledged after they are dead and I don’t want to wait for that. Fortunately the story behind my art is very compelling and makes the job a lot easier.
4) What education, training, vocation or just plain luck would someone have to have in order to get a job like yours?
It would be very difficult to get a job like mine. The stars had to align just right for me to have invented this job. I was a tinsmith (metal working) at Bath Iron Works for two years and a professionally trained chef (ice sculptures) for 20 years. While making ice swans I decided to start making wooden sculptures so they would last a little longer than a giant ice cube. This led me to buying a lathe and turning wooden bowls, vases, plates, etc. Then one day someone gave me a CO2 cylinder from a restaurant and I made it into a bell. It wasn’t until years later when I saw a National Geographic about Mt. Everest and all the trash did I have the epiphany to do my part for Mount Everest. Hopefully I inspire others with my story to keep their eyes and ears open and to go where their life leads them. I was just one man with an idea and enough imagination to follow my dream. If everyone just did their small part the world would be a much better place. I am not encouraging others to do what I do, but to use me as an example to use their imaginations and help the world in any way they can.
5) What is the funniest story you can think of that involves your professional training or your job?
On my way to Nepal I stopped in Thailand. Now I am not man of great stature but I do have an ego. There is a reason chefs wear those tall hats. Chefs and artists have to believe in what they are creating. I guess you could say I have a Napoleon complex. A small man trying to make-up for his shortcomings. Anyway, I was up early walking the streets of Bangkok and while enjoying the open markets I realized almost everyone around me was much shorter than I. Suddenly I was a giant among men and women. I relished in the moment, puffed out my chest, and strutted off thru the market. Unfortunately later in the day I was put in my place by a nice Thai woman who started a conversation with me. She was a teacher who taught local children how to speak English. We had a lovely talk until suddenly she looked up at me and said, “You’re not very tall for an American”. I was dumbstruck, here was the powers that be putting me in my place for my earlier indiscretions of the day. Now that was a hard days work, but someone had to do it.