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The Captivating Art of Clayton Bailey

July, 2000, Update—
This story was written after a visit to Clayton Bailey's studio in 1997. While you're visiting Clayton Bailey's site, take a look at the delightful works of Betty Bailey.






Port Costa, California—

"Who needs an alarm system?"

Clayton Bailey and his Pyrograph

Automatic weather recording

Fossils they way they should be

A Clayton Bailey Robot

Robot & Ray Gun collection

Betty Bailey, Clayton's wife

Do you have the feeling you're being watched?" asked Mark as we walked up to Clayton Bailey's gate. I looked up to see a row of eyes gazing intently from the top of the fence. With gargoyles like these, who needs an alarm system? "They look friendly in a scary kind of way," I said. "They're monsters, but they've definitely got a sense of humor."

All of Clayton Bailey's art has a sense of humor, and a walk through his sculpture garden on a perfect spring day was a journey of mirthful delight.

"I started out as a pharmacy major," he told us, "And I've always been interested in science and chemistry." His ceramic sculptures reflect his fascination. "I like to experiment with glazes and firing temperatures," he explained as he showed us a fanciful apparatus that apeared to be turning stone into gold.

"What's this?" asked Mark, pointing to a spherical piece that looked a little like Captain Nemo's diving helmet. "That's a pyrograph," said Clayton. "I was making snake oil jugs with glass faces a while back, and when I stuck my hand inside, my shirt sleeve caught on fire. That's how I got the idea for making an apparatus that can record the weather." He pulled out a wooden board and gave us a report for the last month. Burn marks had created a perfect record of sunny and cloudy days, and Clayton has become an expert in reading them.

We continued making our way through Clayton's garden of wonders, asking "What's this?" and "What's that?" almost nonstop. "That's a jug that used to hold acid in a gunpowder factory," said Clayton, "And this is the paleontology section." Before us lay a large skeleton labeled "Bigfoot." Nearby were equally rare displays of cyclops' skulls and bones from other fantastic creatures.

Even the bricks Clayton used to paved his garden have a story behind them. "I found them all on the beach," he said. "They were used as ballast in ships during the Gold Rush. Many of them came from England."

Passing a dinosaur, a rocket, and countless other arresting items, we arrived at last in Clayton's workshop, where he showed us the robots he makes out of vintage components like radios, vacuum cleaners and kitchen appliances from the '50s. We asked him if he worked on commission. "I hate it," he said. "I just like to make things, and if someone wants to buy them, fine."

These days, lots of people do. Bill Gates has a Clayton Bailey robot, and his works can be found in galleries across the country.

Before we left, Clayton showed us his extensive collection of toy robots and ray guns. The Smithsonian would be jealous. Come to think of, they'd be jealous of Clayton's whole operation. It's a national treasure.


Clayton Bailey
Ceramic Wonders
P.O. Box 69 Port Costa, CA 94569
510-787-1168 voice or FAX

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