Career change: Africa safari guide to recycled art in France

We talk to Josie Easton about how wildlife still influences her ‘trash-to-treasure’ artwork in Limousin

Josie Easton, 37, from Stamford in the UK, trained as a safari guide in South Africa; now she lives in Limousin and makes recycled art

I have always been passionate about nature and wildlife and grew up watching David Attenborough documentaries.

At 16, when I left school, I decided to take a course in art, design and technology.

A passion for photography was ignited and I spent a lot of time in local woodland photographing wildlife.

Once I graduated, in 2005, I decided to go travelling. I had always wanted to visit Africa, and was lucky enough to have a small inheritance to help make this a reality.

During my research, I stumbled across a course to become a professional safari guide in South Africa. The idea of living and working there seemed like a dream.

There were 18 modules on different aspects of African ecology and conservation and I found it would take me three years to qualify.

Nevertheless, I decided to make it happen, taking a job in a call centre for nine months to top up my funds before embarking on my African adventure in late 2008.

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Then, in 2014, ebola hit Africa

I lived on a shoestring, staying with other guides in safari tents and hostels, and really saw the other side of the industry. The guests paid for five-star treatment; the guides themselves had much more meagre accommodation.

I loved it – it was eye-opening, and I learned a lot about great customer service and making people happy.

After seven years, I even decided to go freelance and create my own packages.

Sadly, in 2014, ebola hit Africa. Although our area was not affected, the tourism industry slumped.

I had also begun to feel a long way from family – I am an only child and seeing my parents just once a year was hard.

In 2016, after eight wonderful years in South Africa, I decided it was time to move back to Stamford, Lincolnshire, where I grew up.

My new business plans were devastated by Covid

Once back, I was not quite sure which direction to take.

Serendipitously, I met a woman at my cousin’s yoga class and got talking.

She worked for New College Stamford (my old college) and told me there was a lecturer role opening – in ecology and conservation.

I applied and spent three happy years sharing my knowledge of nature and conservation with students.

But I have never been one to sit still and gradually got itchy feet again.

What I really wanted to do was take groups of college students out to Africa to see animals in the wild, to learn about the diverse fauna and flora first-hand and earn themselves industry-recognised qualifications in the process.

I set up my own company, Students of Nature Ltd, in August 2017 while still working at the college.

Unfortunately, just as I was building my customer base, Covid hit, travel was cancelled, and I had to refund my bookings. I was devastated and unsure what to do next.

I combined my passion for nature and recycling in Limousin

My parents had moved to Limousin in 2017 to retire and run a small gîte. Not sure what was going to happen in the pandemic, I moved over to be with them – arriving a day before the borders were closed in March 2020.

Like most people, lockdown gave me time to reflect.

I discovered Limousin has an abundance of lakes and forests: nature was on my doorstep!

I began to wonder whether I could combine my passion for recycling and ecology with my love of nature – and came up with a unique idea: creating recycled artworks.

One of the items I seemed to regularly find in décheteries was discarded cutlery. My dad taught me how to weld and I began to experiment.

Now I create everything from delicate painted birds to whimsical wind chimes, all from discarded cutlery. I love giving other people’s ‘rubbish’ a new lease of life.

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Wildlife inspired mosaics from broken ceramics

In August 2020, I set up my own company, La Petite Maison Creations, and specialise in wildlife-inspired gifts.

I am now a well-known face on local markets and I have many loyal customers, some of whom have become friends.

In January 2022, I took a mosaic course and started recycling broken and chipped ceramics and other found objects.

Wildlife is my inspiration, and I often include sculptural features, such as muscle and feather details, alongside my signature glass mirror roses, placed where the animal’s heart would be, to represent the fragility of nature.

Recently, I have started taking commissions for recycled ceramic pet portraits and next year I hope to run mosaic workshops too.

My days are always full and busy, which suits me to the ground.

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