Bottle whimseys are objects that are placed piece by piece through the neck of the bottle; similar to the way ships in the bottle are made but the objects are seldom ships. The first bottle whimsey dates to the 1700’s. The making of these bottles flourished from 1880-1910 when glass bottles became plentiful. After World War 2 the making of them declined. Today, there are very few people who make them.
The objects vary. The These artists are self-taught, because there are no schools, classes or books that describe how to make them and they must often make the tools to work inside the bottle. One modern day artist is Steve Moseley who now resides in St. Louis Missouri in the United States. His bottles have been presented in RAWVISION No.85 recently.
Steve was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1964. He said his formal art education lasted 8 years, 9 if you count kindergarten, but does not consider himself to be an artist but rather a model maker. As a teen he made model airplanes and hung them from his bedroom ceiling. He graduated from the University of Louisville with a degree in Chemistry and worked there for ten years as a research technician. He met his future wife while working there and after she graduated with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry, and they had their first child, Steve became a full time stay at home dad. The need for a hobby made itself clear and he started making ships in the bottle. St. Louis is now his home and that is where all his whimsey bottles have been made.
The figures in the bottles are carved from Basswood and augmented with a 2-part clay. The pieces are small enough to fit through the neck of the bottle and then assembled inside. He said the average bottle takes twenty or so hours to make and others much longer. The inspirations for his bottles come from a variety of sources. The three subjects that one is not supposed to talk about in polite conversation are sex, religion and politics. These are his favorite subjects. He was raised Southern Baptist and has also attended mass at the Catholic Church with his wife early in their marriage. Both churches are a source of inspiration for many of his bottles. He told me that he likes to portray scenes that people are thinking about, but may be uncomfortable discussing; he represents these ideas and does so in a humorous way. Whimsey bottles are sometimes referred to as folk art bottles, however, the scenes depicted in Steve’s bottles are rarely if ever depicted in folk art. They include the Catholic Church pedophile scandal and financial corruption, the holier than thou attitude of southern evangelicals, prostitution, racism, transvestites, as well as homosexuality.
He said his best bottles are those that “piss off” some people but make others laugh. On the few times he has shown his bottles, he has seen some people laughing while others are shaking their heads while walking away. Sometimes an idea for the bottles comes to him and the only way to get the idea out of his head is to just make the bottle. Once the bottle is finished, many times it goes into a closet downstairs, he said that they are safer from tornadoes and he won’t have to dust them. Sometimes actual people are the subject of his artwork. He has no need for the artwork after it is finished so he simply mails it to the person portrayed. He has made bottles to various artists. And what a honor – thank you Steve! – and what an excitement and pleasure, coming across this website, he was inspired to make a great bottle full of humour, showing the collector (a very good portrait based on a photograph) looking at the ceiling for some sadditional space, having no space left at the wall...