Bailey Art Museum / Wonders of the World Museum Clayton Bailey (1939 - 2020)
About the Artist/Site
Born in Antigo, Wisconsin, Bailey studied at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, earning a BS and then an MS degree in Art and Art Education. While he worked as a technical assistant to influential glassblower Harvey Littleton and received a Louis Comfort Tiffany grant in 1963, he soon turned away from glass in order to concentrate on ceramics. After a three-year teaching residency at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he moved to California to cover Robert Arneson’s classes at the University of California-Davis during his 1967 sabbatical. Bailey and his wife Betty relocated permanently to Northern California in 1968 and he was hired to teach ceramics at California State University-Hayward (now CSU-East Bay), a position from which he retired in 1996 as Professor Emeritus.
While his career trajectory might have been the pattern that many young artists would try to emulate, Bailey’s own artwork was far from the mold. Already an important presence in the Funk Art and Nut Art movements, in 1972, Bailey, working as his alter-ego Dr. George Gladstone, claimed to have discovered a Bigfoot skeleton in the California hills near his home, so he decided to create a roadside museum in his backyard in order to display the Bigfoot evidence. Thus began the Wonders of the World Museum.
Dressed in a white lab coat and pith helmet, Bailey/Gladstone soon discovered bones of other mythical animals by applying the principles of “Kaolism” (the scientific study of thermally metamorphosed mud). Most of these creatures were “Bone Age” skeletons from the “Pre-Credulous Era” (a heretofore unknown epoch in time), and included a Lady Bigfoot, a Jackalope, and a Catalope, all of which remain in the Museum’s “Unnatural History” collection.
The museum also features a “Mad Doctor’s Laboratory,” an environment that presents pseudo-scientific medical tools and specimens, all made of ceramic. The mad doctor's Brain in a Bowl bubbles in the back of the lab. There is also a fleshy pink blob, a creature that "Came from a Bucket of Mud" and “Stands Alone on Earth!” Blending performance, ceramics, and an idiosyncratic pseudo-science that may have been developed from the chemistry needed to understand glass and ceramics, Bailey’s works were infused with humor and pranks.
With “discoveries” growing exponentially, the Wonders of the World Museum was transferred from Bailey’s backyard to a space in downtown Port Costa, where it remained until 1978. Subsequently, most of the collection moved back to Bailey’s home, until some was later transferred to the new Bailey Art Museum that opened in nearby Crockett in 2013.
While the Museum was still located in Port Costa, in 1975, Bailey built a robot suit that he called ON/OFF- the Wonder Robot. ON/OFF served as the Museum’s barker, walking the streets and ordering passersby to “Go to the Museum.” Inspired by this figure, Bailey moved more intensively into constructing figurative metal sculptures that range in size from table-top to larger-than-life. Fabricated primarily from found aluminum domestic appliances – coffee pots, lamps and car headlights, tubing, flatware, vacuum cleaners, and much more – these metal works – as some of the earlier ceramics – may have kinetic parts that move, glow, or make strange noises. They are credited to Bailey instead of the mad scientist Gladstone.
While works remain in Bailey’s home and backyard, complemented with his collections of toys (and, in particular, toy robots) and other vintage objects, his personal space is not generally open to the public. Many of the artworks are now installed at the new 3,200 square foot Bailey Art Museum in Crockett, however. Also on display at the Museum are Betty Bailey’s colored pencil drawings and watercolors, many featuring scenes from Clayton’s artwork, friends, and family. Located at 325 Rolph Avenue, the storefront Museum is open to the public Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 1 – 5 pm.
~Clayton Bailey and Jo Farb Hernández, 2016
Map & Site Information
325 Rolph Avenue
Crockett, California, 94525 us
Latitude/Longitude: 38.0555311 / -122.2197627
Mill Valley, California