Tressa Prisbrey’s dream

Grandma Prisbrey

Grandma Prisbrey, from Laurie Avocado's Flickr Photostream

Tressa Prisbrey was sixty when she began a building project that consumed another quarter of a century. Twenty-five years of daily visits to the dump to dig up bottles. Twenty-five years of creating buildings, shrines, paths, wishing wells, and quirky structures. Twenty-five years devoted to a hobby that was part art, part architecture, part recycling—and all passion.

Tressa “Grandma” Prisbrey is a model of courage. The timeline on the Web site maintained by a small group of loyal fans is proof of that.

Tressa was only fifteen when she married Theodore Grinolds in 1912. Her husband was 52. They moved to a homestead near Minot, North Dakota. The first child arrived within the year. When the seventh child was still a toddler, Tressa Prisbrey left the marriage.

So there she was, a single mother of seven at the age of 28. To support the family, she waitressed and entertained, playing the piano and singing.

I’ve no idea how she managed the next two decades, but in 1947 she married Albert Prisbrey. Seven years later she started her first building project, a block house in Santa Susana (now called Simi Valley).
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The Web site doesn’t tell us whose hospital bills piled up, only that they were the reason for selling the home on Alamo Street and buying a 1/3-acre lot at 4595 Cochran Street. That’s where she began building Bottle Village. By the time she was 65 “Grandma” Prisbrey had created 13 structures and a host of other sculptural creations. She self-published a book about the construction of Bottle Village and opened the property for tours.

Life intruded. In 1972 she sold Bottle Village so she could move to Oregon and look after an ailing son. She never owned the property again, though in 1974 she returned as caretaker.

Bottle Village

Bottle Village, from Laurie Avocado's Flickr photostream

I can imagine how Bottle Village clawed at her heart when her health forced Tressa to move to San Francisco in 1982. She would have been grateful for her one surviving daughter’s care but bereft at leaving the sheltering arms of her creative spirit.

Tressa Prisbrey’s story makes me want to cheer. I can imagine there were plenty of behind-the-hand snickers when she began, plenty of skeptical passersby. No one’s doubts or questions kept her from creating her glassy village.

The small group of determined supporters who maintain her legacy describe her work this way: “Bottle Village is also a bold and personal statement to the importance of the creative act in everyday life. At Bottle Village, art does not just reflect life. Art and life merge, in a 25 year fusion.”

In this video we meet Tressa Prisbrey and catch a glimpse of the brave spirit behind the whimsical, graceful, and triumphant outpouring of her artistic intelligence.

Thanks to a tiny group of supporters, Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village lives on. They could use help. Between natural decay and a 1994 earthquake, Tressa Prisbrey’s legacy is crumbling.

For more of Grandma Prisbrey’s extraordinary legacy, see

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2 comments for “Tressa Prisbrey’s dream

  1. October 2, 2010 at 1:35 am


    This was an exemplifying story of courage and inspiration. 25 yrs. of painstaking effort. And the video is awesome.
    Hope I get to see the bottle village some day. Saw the pictures….great work indeed..

  2. October 2, 2010 at 8:28 am

    I’m inspired by her passion and her dedication to a dream.

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