by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder
One of the great things about Folk Art is the surprising variety of art work you can find..Most of us look at a bottle and see only what is inside (like vinegar or ketchup) and we use the contents and recycle the bottle or as was done before recycling, simply throw it away. But fortunately for us, not all people see the empty bottle as a object to be discarded. For some a empty bottle presents itself as an exiting material to re-use for a different purpose. There are those who create art with bottles.
Some produce grand scale objects like Grandma Prisbey's bottle houses in California, or the late Edouard Arsenualt's retirement project: three fantasy-like buildings made of no less than 25,000 multi-colored bottles (found on route 11 in Prince Edward Island, Canada.)
Others see the empty bottle as a great vessel to fill with bath oils and fragrances or spices.
Since the early 1700s, people have stuffed everything from photographs (complete with frames), tools, anchors and miniature buildings to airplanes, crucifixion scenes and ships into glass bottles. One of the early pieces of bottle art is one built and signed by an Italian named Gioni Biondo in 1784. The model is in the Museum für Kunst - und Kulturgeschichte (Art and Cultural History Museum) in Lübeck, Germany.
No one is really sure how this art form began, but there are some who believe that it was started by sailors at sea to pass the time.
David Smith, a model ship builder who lives in New Brunswick, Canada, is a gifted (self-taught) folk artist. He places ships in bottles and light bulbs. David not only creates all the pieces of his ship models but also the tools needed for building objects inside bottles. David says, "I could cut corners. Stamp the sails out with a die cutter. Cast the hulls of plastic. Mass produce them by the dozen. But then, what use would they be? They would have no life. And all that feeling would be gone. They'd be just a pile of dead sticks and kindling."
Then there was Carl Worner who by all accounts was born in early 1882 or 1883. He used empty bottles to create complete bar scenes. Folklore has it that he used these creations to pay for his bar bills in and around the great lakes area.
One of the best bottle art web sites I have found is that of S. D. Jones, of North Carolina. She has assembled detailed pages dealing with folk art sculptures which have been assembled inside glass bottles. This terrific site has so much to offer including folk art bottles in museum collections, a list of known artists and locations plus a story about a remarkable bottle from a 1883 murder case in PA. A bottle made in 1719 and its creator, Matthias Buchinger. There is an inscription inside the bottle, pictured at the right, which reads: "October ye 20 1719. This Work in This Bottle was Mendet by me Mathew Buchinger, born Without Hands or Feet in Germany Jany ye 3 1674."
Finally, find images and descriptions of a great collection at the Ships in bottles association of Ameria. A great collection of links to world wide ships in bottles.
It is great to find this old form of folkart still in existence today.
Text © Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder; Photos Reprinted with Permission