Dreams, the Passage of Time: Grandma Prisbey’s Bottle Village

I’m know I’m posting this adventure out of order, but I just couldn’t wait.  Time is moving so quickly for us, as it does for all travelers:  every day is a new adventure, and by the time you finish one you’re on to the next, often before you’ve had time to soak it all in, contemplate what it all means.  I don’t want to lose the feelings I had at this particular place.

Actually, Grandma Prisbey’s Bottle Village was the impetus for this tour.  Earlier this year, I was reminded of an article I’d read (when in my 20s) in an airplane magazine, about a woman who’d built a “village” entirely out of bottles and other found objects — initially to house her 17,000 pencil collection.   She started building in her 50s.  The walks were mosiac; the structures, a mixture of bottles collected at dumps, cement, and whimsy.  She gave tours for a quarter and if she felt like it, she’d sing and play racy songs for you at the end.  When I’d initially read this, I thought:  I must meet her! (for she was still alive at the time)  But like many things, it got lost in my “to do” list and never happened.

But now, with renewed interest, I was able to find the Bottle Village online.  Thresie (Tressa) Luella Schafer (aka “Grandma Prisbey”) was born in 1896, 1 of 8 children; she married at 15, had 7 children (she outlived all but one), two husbands, and died at age 92 in 1988.   She didn’t start building the village until she was nearly 60.  While the Village was maintained, in 1994 a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the area, destroying or damaging much of the village.  And although the society received FEMA funding to rebuild, a local congressman protested this, calling it a “waste,” so the funding was rescinded.  Now it sits in disrepair, but is still a California State Historical Landmark, amongst other designations, and is open to the public for limited touring.  All this, and more, can be found on the website’s timeline.

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Once I knew we’d definitely be in the area, I went about securing a tour date.  Turned out not to be as easy as I’d hoped:  run by a limited number of volunteers, the tour dates didn’t meet our needs.  However, a very nice volunteer, Katherine, agreed to meet us at a mutually convenient time and let us have a “self-guided” tour.  I was ecstatic!  Karen (my friend and our host), Jane, and I met Kathleen on 9/17 at 11am.  BV_Sue01    The village is in a residential area, just a little bit of magic tucked into the lazy hazy ‘burbs!

I hope you’ll take the time to check out these pictures of the Village before the earthquake hit, because they’re stunning:  http://www.bottlevillage.com/photo_gallery/photo_gallery.htm  The pictures on our site are taken by Jane and me, and personally I think they’re equally stunning but totally different:  before and after pics.  Our pictures show the ravages of time and nature.  Earthquakes take their toll, as does lack of funding.  Volunteers meticulously collected the bottles from broken buildings and categorized them, should they ever be able to re-build:

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It was a very hot day, and other than us, not a soul around.  You could see the artistry in disrepair; but that had nothing to do with the spirit of the place.  The whimsical doll heads on sticks:  BV_Sue20

The “Spring Garden”:  BV_Jane14

Here’s one I almost forgot to add.  Under a board, on the ground, Katherine showed us some photos that were ensconced in the cement.  Of Grandma Prisbey’s  children, perhaps?

Some of the pencils that Grandma Prisbey loved can still be seen in the ruins of the Round House (see below).  Also, note how the sunlight streams in through the bottles, like a stained glass effect:

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Here are a few photos from the damaged Fluorescent Tube Fountain. Doesn’t it look like the horses (and ducks) are barreling right out of the cement?

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The “Leaning Tower of Bottle Village”:
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A little bit of the ceramic walkways:
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Just a few of my favorites, showing both the ruins and the continuing life going on around them:
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A picture of Jane, our lovely guide Katherine (who brought us lemonade in jars!), and my friend Karen — we’ve been friends for over 30 years:
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And just a few more.
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What’s so remarkable to me is that I’d had this village in my head for over 30 years, and now, although it’s not in the same shape as it once was — but what is? — seeing it was not a disappointment, it was a statement on time, art, memories, spirit, and friendship.


Please check out the links to the Village, above, and here’s one last link in case you’d like to get involved, or make a donation, to keep this dream viable and available to the public:  http://www.bottlevillage.com/faq/faq.htm


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