By DAN FOX
Alaska is a place for people driven to do what they love, notes Skagway resident Bruce Schindler, and he loves to carve and restore mammoth ivory pulled from Alaskan soil. That passion, which has become his livelihood, has landed him on national television.
A recent episode of “Blue Collar Millionaire” featuring Schindler aired on Feb. 8 on CNBC, with the ivory carver’s tale leading the half-hour program.
“Blue Collar Millionaire” is about people who’ve made a very strong living by working with their hands, said Schindler.
Each episode features three people, all of them self-made successes, who employ their skills in various lines of work. The types of industries are usually quite different.
“The one thing they have in common is that they were kind of driven by their own creativity, their own motivation to do something a little outside of the average,” Schindler said.
When the opportunity to participate in the show first crossed his path, Schindler actually turned it down. A private person by nature, Schindler had heard from others that doing a show like this would be an invasive process.
The reality ended up being much different.
“I had an amazing time,” Schindler said.
Both the film crew and producer for the episode were humbling to work with, according to Schindler. The crew seemed focused on getting the story right, as opposed to trying to form a predetermined narrative, an approach Schindler said he appreciated. Schindler said his favorite part about participating in the “Blue Collar Millionaire” episode was the opportunity to introduce new people to the adventure of the north.
“Speaking to them as completely fresh, open minds to what was there was a lot of fun,” Schindler said.
Schindler was also concerned the focus would be too much on him. He said the gold miners in Dawson who help him recover mammoth ivory from the ground, and the town of Skagway itself, are as much a part of what he does as the carving itself.
“It has to do with this town that we live in that has so many opportunities,” Schindler said. “Our town is so multi-faceted, and so accepting and so nurturing, that without that, I certainly wouldn’t have anything.”
The amount of legwork which went into producing his portion of the episode surprised the ivory carver. The production company contacted Schindler over a year and a half ago, and held a held a series of short conversations with him about the prospect for around six months. After that, Schindler said the show’s producer started to really get “fired up” about his ivory carving business.
That was just the preliminary work.
Figuring out the logistics of getting an entire film crew up to Skagway and up to the gold fields – which is where Schindler finds much of his mammoth ivory – was a “huge feat,” Schindler said.
“I definitely see TV a little differently than I had before,” Schindler said.
In a previous story published in The Skagway News in July 2016, Schindler had spoken of issues facing the mammoth ivory carving business. Due to the crackdown on the illegal elephant ivory trade, far-reaching bans on all types of ivory products could hamper the sale of products created from the long-extinct mammoths’ tusks.
Schindler did not use the recent “Blue Collar Millionaire” episode to discuss that issue, however.
“What I really wanted to do was just show how amazing it is that these things have survived in the north, buried under the ground for 35,000 years,” Schindler said.
“Really what I want to do is show off the grandeur of the mammoth, and show that it’s a noble thing to preserve and restore the remains of these ancient beasts.”