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Tressa ‘Grandma’ Prisbrey, Bottle Village

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  • Location:

    Simi Valley, California, USA (Map)

  • Status:

    Extant

    In 1994, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake caused severe structural damage to “Bottle Village.” Federal emergency funds were initially promised, but the offer was withdrawn after opponents protested the use of taxpayer money to aid constructions made of “garbage.” Despite this setback, the site was added to the National Register for Historic Places  in 1996, and a reinvigorated, all-volunteer PBVC has accomplished some restoration.

  • Artist:
  • Built:

    1956-1965

  • Materials:

    bottles, concrete, dolls, found objects, pencils, tile

Visiting Information

Although officially closed, the site may be viewed by appointment.

About the Artist/Site

Tressa Prisbrey was born in the farming community of Easton, Minnesota, to parents of German heritage. The youngest of eight children, she soon moved with her family to homestead in Minot, North Dakota. At the age of 15, she married her elder sister’s former husband, 52-year-old Theodore Grinolds. The couple had seven children, six of whom died as adults. Grinolds’ died in 1931. Tressa headed west a decade later sometime after 1941, living in Seattle for a time. By 1947 she had moved to Simi Valley, California, and married a local man, Al Prisbrey. They eventually bought a small parcel of land—one-third of an acre—just downwind of a nearby poultry farm.

Asserting that cement blocks were too expensive for the initial retaining wall and storage shed she needed, Prisbrey went to the dump in her Studebaker pickup, and collected the bottles and other discards she would use for building materials. In later years she told visitors she was motivated by the need to house her extensive pencil collection (variously numbered at between 2,000 and 17,000 items) but after she built her “Pencil House,” she continued building, ultimately creating 13 small houses and other structures linked together with colorful mosaic pathways.

As she constructed, furnished, and embellished her rooms with findings from the dump, Prisbrey began to cultivate a new identity and became known as “Grandma.” She recited anecdotes and accounts of her premonitions as she escorted guests through her “Bottle Village,” pointing out interesting features, and singing and playing the piano in a structure she called “the Meditation Room.”

In 1979, when Prisbrey was 83 years old, a group interested in safeguarding the site’s future formed the Preserve Bottle Village Committee (PBVC.)  Through their efforts, “Bottle Village” was declared a Ventura County Cultural Landmark, and in 1981, they secured its recognition as a California Registered Historical Landmark.

Her health failing, Tressa Prisbrey moved to San Francisco in 1982 to live with her one remaining daughter. She died six years later.

In 1994, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake caused severe structural damage to “Bottle Village.” Federal emergency funds were initially promised, but the offer was withdrawn after opponents protested the use of taxpayer money to aid constructions made of “garbage.” Despite this setback, the site was added to the National Register for Historic Places  in 1996, and a reinvigorated, all-volunteer PBVC has accomplished some restoration. Although officially closed, the site may be viewed by appointment.

~This entry has been adapted from Verni Greenfield’s 1986 Making Do or Making Art by Jo Farb Hernandez.

 

SPACES Archives Holdings

Doll and chair by Prisbrey, correspondence, clippings, and approximately 300 photographic prints, slides and negatives.

Related Documents

Letter to La Haye Bronze from Sandra J. Elder, CA State Historical Resources Commission, 6/11/1984

business card for Helen Marie Dennert

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Helen Dennert, 1/4/1990

flyer for Bottle Village

Reflections of Bottle Village, 1992

invitation to Reflections of Bottle Village, 1992

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Dr. Wolfgang Ebert, 12/12/1980

Letter to Preserve Bottle Village Committee from SPACES/Seymour Rosen

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from The Preserve Bottle Village Commmittee, 11/12/04

list of current issues related to Bottle Village, 3/4/1997

Ageless exhbition, 1990

Preserve Bottle Village Bulletin, 1987

Report to the Judith Rothschild Foundation, 3/27/2000

Summary of Bottle Village Project, 11/21/1999

Certificate of membership

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Daniel Paul, 3/1/1995

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Amy E. Skillman, Bottle Village, 9/26/1984

conversation between Grandma Prisbrey and a friend, Mary

flyer for Bottle Village, 5/12/1994

Letter to James Lee Witt, FEMA from SPACES/Seymour Rosen, 1/15/1996

flyer for screening of “Visions of Paradise”

flyer for Bottle Village

Legend and diagram of Bottle Village

update on Bottle Village

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Helen Dennert, 2/13/1991

donation form for mosaic stone for Bottle Village

brief bio of Tressa Prisbrey, 1985

bibliography of books and magazine articles on Tressa Prisbrey, 1996

booklet for Bottle Village event, 1982

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Letter to Pamela Clapp, Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts from Janice Wilson, Preserve Bottle Village, 9/12/1998

Bottle Village Public Safety, Securtiy, and Stabilization Budget

Curatorial Program and historic preservation

Letter from SPACES/Seymour Rosen

Petition to save CA Folk Art Environments

Letter to Amy Skillman, Preserve Bottle Village from Michele Bell, Art Programs, Inc, 2/17/1984

Consignment for “The Dream Builders of CA” exhibition, 2/25/1984

business card for Michele Bell, Art Programs, Inc

Loan Agreement between Amy Skillman and Art Programs Inc, 1984

Press Release for the Dreambuilders of CA

Press Release

The Dreambuilders of CA Exhibition details, 1984

news for The Dreambuilders of CA

Brochure Text for Dreambuilders exhibition, 1982

note about Bottle Village

Letter to Barbara W. Kaufman, Seton Hall University from Amy E. Skillman, 1/31/1985

Letter to Amy Stillman, Preserve Bottle Village from Barbara W. Kaufman, Seton Hall University, 1/23/1985

Letter to Barbara W. Kaufman, Seton Hall University from Amy E. Skillman, 5/1/1985

Letter to Barbara W. Kaufman, Seton Hall University from Amy E. Skillman, 12/13/1985

business card for Barbara W. Kaufman, Museum of American Folk Art

postcard to Amy Skillman, Preserve Bottle Village from Monmouth County Historical Association, 11/30/1985

flyer for “A Time to Reap”, 11/9/1985

Letter to Amy Skillman, Preserve Bottle Village from Sarah Heald, The Monmouth County Historical Assocation, 11/29/1985

brief bio and slide list for Bottle Village, 2/1985

slide info for Bottle Village

tag for Prisbrey Doll Tree Sculpture, 1986

invoice for shipping of Prisbrey art pieces, 8/8/1986

invoice for shipping of Prisbrey art pieces, 2/24/1986

incoming loan agreement, 1985

Letter to Amy Skillman, Preserve Bottle Village from Harvey Jones, The Oakland Museum, 11/24/1985

Letter to Donna Reid, The Oakland Museum from Amy E. Skillman, Preserve Bottle Village, 9/15/1985

Letter to Amy Skillman, Craft and Folk Art Museum from Donna Reid, The Oakland Museum, 5/17/1985

Letter to Joanne Jackson, Preserve Bottle Village from Barbara Bowman, The Oakland Museum, 11/5/1986

shipping record for art work between Joanne Johnson and SF Craf and Folk Art Museum, 6/20/1988

Letter to Joanne Jackson, Preserve Bottle Village from Carole Austin, SF Craft and Folk Art Museum, 5/25/1988

Letter from Carole Austin, SF Craft and Folk Art Museum, 6/7/1988

loan agreement between SF Craft and Folk Art Musem and Preserve Bottle Village, 6/27/1988

Letter to Joanne Johnson, Preserve Bottle Village from SF Craft and Folk Art Museum, 8/26/1988

flyer for “Ageless”, 1/19/1990

Reflections of Bottle Village, 1992

info about Bottle Village and “Visions of the Left Coast”

Letter from Nancy Doll, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, 7/21/1995

loan agreement between Preserve Bottle Village and Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, 7/6/1995

Press Release for “Visions from the Left Coast: CA Self-Taught and Visionary Artists”, 1995

Letter to Terry Wolverton, The Woman’s Building from Amy Skillman, 7/19/1983

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Ernest B. Gerran, International Communication Agency, 1/17/1980

info about Grandma’s Bottle Village film

business card for Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village

Restoration Report for Bottle Village

USA Sites and overview of Bottle Village, 1988

USA Sites and overview of Bottle Village

timeline for Grandma Prisbrey, 10/30/1999

bibliography of books and magazine articles on Tressa Prisbrey, 1996

Letter to SPACES/Seymour Rosen from Joanne (?) Preserve Bottle Village, 1/23/1989

fond note about Grandma Prisbrey, 10/15/1988

Rothschild Report Page 2

exhibition database in progress

postcard of Bottle Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Simi Valley, California, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 34.279458 / -118.704647

Visiting Information

Although officially closed, the site may be viewed by appointment.

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