In September of 2008, Maine Wood Heat promised to install a Castleton soapstone masonry fireplace in a Brunswick, Maine home before Christmas after selling the stove at the 08 Common Ground Fair.
Our client was Jeff Clapp, artist, wood turner, designer, environmentalist, and entrepreneur. He handed me a little three-inch square box and a brochure with his order. The plain brown card box held a clear plastic Christmas tree ornament. The ornament was stuffed with shiny aluminum tinsel shavings saved and hand stuffed with chop sticks as a by product of his one-of-a-kind exquisite hand turned bells and bowls that he makes out of recycled oxygen bottles. However, these are no ordinary oxygen bottles. They had actually been reclaimed from litter Jeff found on Mt. Everest.
When I went to Jeff’s home to check out his chimney, hearth and foundation for this little soapstone masonry fireplace, Jeff showed me his simple basement workshop where he turns the dingy oxygen cylinders on a wood lathe with wood worker’s chisels.
He had a few shiny grooved or hammered finished bowls and bells in his home, not yet sold or packed for Christmas shipment. The back room of the house on the main level is his shipping room.
The loft above the cathedral ceiling living room is his office where he and his wife Wendy process orders for bells and bowls and ornaments by email and by phone. The ornaments are marketed online, at outlets like L.L. Bean and also recently at Disney World in Florida where Jeff and Wendy were invited to display their work as part of an event showcasing the Everest ride there.
The soapstone masonry fireplace that we installed was made from stone quarried in Brazil, owned by a company in Vermont, marketed by a senior sales rep in Nova Scotia and installed by our family in Maine. This project combined stories, families, and materials from three continents.
We came with twenty five hundred pounds of soapstone and left with three little ornaments, each as light as a feather, filled with aluminum threads that had traveled up and down Everest on their way to us. Each ornament will hang on a different family tree in the years ahead and will be packed away at the end of the Christmas season with all the other precious ornaments we have collected over the years.
We finished the little Castleton heater before Christmas as promised. The hardest part of the installation was closing up the old wood stove hole in the chimney and cutting in a new hole for the base exit soapstone masonry fireplace without filling the house full of dust. We worked with drop cloths, plastic and a shop vac to keep our mess to a minimum. During construction we pretty much filled up the downstairs with soapstone slabs and our tools. With the unit completed and our drop cloths and tools removed, it hardly looked like we had been there at all except for the beautiful new masonry fireplace sitting ready for its first fire.
When we contacted Jeff to tell him we were writing about our project together, Jeff sent us the above photo along with the following message:
“I love this stove. I couldn’t wait for it to get cold enough to start a fire…It is now the heart of our home.”