Clayton Bailey In Wisconsin During the Sixties: Outrageous Entertainment By Ceramic and Metal Crafts

Clayton Bailey Sculptor, Mad Doctor, 1974


Clayton Bailey In Wisconsin During the Sixties:
Outrageous Entertainment By Ceramic and Metal Crafts
Bernard Pyron

On Bailey reports that: “Bailey’s friend, Bernard Pyron, who was teaching Art Appreciation at Wisconsin State University-Whitewater, informs Bailey that Whitewater is looking for an artist-in-residence. Bailey applies for the position, and gets it. He receives a Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant, and an American Crafts Council Research Grant to support his work with salt glazes, and builds a salt kiln in Pyron’s back yard in Whitewater. They discuss zen and dada, drink ginger brandy and bark at the moon while their kilns are firing.”

We didn’t drink ginger brandy or bark at the moon. One of my students who was a house painter, Jerry Bell, used to come over at night and in the winter I fired up my wood stove in my pottery studio, and we often made reel to reel tapes of us making noises and playing on mouth bows. Rarely we had beer. Once Bailey made some cardboard cut outs of heads that we put in the window of my studio above the garage. Bailey later claimed that the neighbor across the creek, Silvernail, said he was going to have us committed.

Bailey is talking about salt glazing here. In the winter of 1963-64 we often fired the salt kiln and when it was up to near 2300 degrees we would put wet table salt in small paper cups and throw them into the white-hot kiln. There was a small explosion and then clouds of gas would billow out all over the area. I had rented an old house in Whitewater with maybe a quarter of an acre of land along a creek. My article, The Night of the Great Salt, was about these salt firings at night. It was published in Quixote, a little literary magazine, in 1965. In that article I say that a University is like a mad dentist, which opens the mind and then slams it shut. Later, Bailey made some Mad Dentist ceramic sculptures. I like Bailey’s ceramic and metal objects from the late sixties or seventies that are part of his satire on doctors called, “Secrets From a Mad Doctor’s Laboratory.”

Also in the late sixties and seventies Bailey made ceramic skeletons of monsters, hodags and other fantastic critters found by his fantasy self, Dr. George Gladstone, a mad Scientist. I liked these works and the story. In The Night of the Great Salt I wrote about the University seen as a Wrecking Machine, a metaphor which I have used since then in more than one context. I see surrealism as a Wrecking Machine, a dark art, along with most of psychology, which is another dark art. A mysterious occult alchemist figure simply called “Fulcanelli,” is said to have influenced the Paris surrealists of the twenties with his book Mysteries of the Cathedrals. William Cooper did a broadcast on Fulcanelli and the Paris surrealists just a few days before he was killed by the police in Arizona. I have wondered if Bailey knew about that influence by Fulcanelli, or if Bailey just saw photos of gargoyles, demon dogs, and the like as sculptures on Gothic cathedrals, and started making them himself.

Bailey clearly moved into an occultic area in his thinking and crafts. I broke with him in 2000 when he sent me photos of his Satan sculptures and said he was going to use them in his book, Happenings in the Circus of Life (2000). He said he was going to use excerts from my published article in Artforum (1964) called The Tao and Dada of Recent American Ceramic Art in his book. He also said he was going to use an unpublished article of mine on his appearance at a ceramics conference in Madison, Wisconsin in 1973 describing his antics on stage. I asked him not to use them because I did not want my name associated with his Satanic sculptures. Bailey used both of my writings anyway in Happenings.

The San Francisco art critic Mark Van Proyen writes in a review of a Clayton Bailey exhibit at the Joseph Chowning Gallery sometime at least fifteen years ago that one of Bailey’s jugs bears an uncanny resemblance to writer Anton Levey, a man who was designated as the “Neil Sedaka of Satanism…” Van Proyen says “But there are three other works in this exhibition that delve deeper into the occult…these pieces are sculptural extrapolations from the furnaces that are frequently depicted in alchemical drawings from the seventeenth and eighteenth century.”

In 1984 I sent Clayton Bailey a draft of my book, The Great Rebellion. The book is about the several movements that fed into the counterculture of the sixties, including the drug movement, the hippies, the sex liberation movement, feminism, the new left, self psychology and the art bohemians. Using Bible texts, I criticize each of these movements. And so a person who was into the drug, hippie or art bohemian movements in the sixties or later in the seventies – could see The Great Rebellion as a criticism of him or her. Bailey had used drugs in the sixties and was certainly a part of the art bohemian movement in the sixties and seventies. The art bohemians were important for the creation of the counterculture because they established the bohemian neighborhoods and communities like the Lower East Side which the followers of the drug and hippie movements later enjoyed. I came to the conclusion that the art bohemians as a distinct movement fizzled out mostly by about 1990 or earlier and merged with the far left, feminism and political correctness to some extent. So by 2000 cultural Marxism appeared to go along with the culture of the artists. The art bohemian leaders like Bailey became professors in universities.

I have here a handwritten letter of May 15, 1984 to me from Clayton G. Bailey. he says “I have been reading the notes you sent,and in particular about the paragraph you marked about…”the sin of pride, opposition to Biblical morality.” I don’t believe this is the same Pyron I knew in Wisconsin. Have you become a Jesus Freak? Why? There’s lots of mischief to be done. The Bible is not relevant…people need outrageous entertainment.” Clayton Bailey became a good craftsmen in ceramics and metal. His crafts at times are “outrageous entertainment” and “mischief.”

After a few decades the works of a shock craftsman-artist become less interesting and old hat. So he has to raise the level of shock in his works. He can go in the direction of the obscene, the schizophrenic or the occultic and Satanic. Bailey, however, made robot after robot, which are similar to one another. I am not sure that he gave up on his occult bent and turned almost completely to making robot after robot. Maybe someone who knows his work since about 1990 can tell me.

In The Great Rebellion I write about how the art bohemians, or artists in general, have helped further image obsession in the popular culture, which is a form of pride.

“There’s lots of mischief to be done, Bailey said in 1984.” Bailey was anti-Christian in the sixties when I knew him in Wisconsin and at least as of 2000-2001 he was still anti-Christian. This derisive attitude toward Christianity and the older culture influenced by it is what has informed some of Bailey’s work. His “Ode to the Unconceived,” for example, mocks the anti-abortion stand of Christians, and shows up in his derisive use of Marilyn Monroe’s name in his robot sculpture by that name. Bailey’s derisive attitude toward Christianity is what led him to dislike my 1985 book The Great Rebellion. He lists it and my 1965 Quixote article on the Night of the Great Salt in his 2000 book, Happenings In the Circus of Life.

Clayton Bailey, now in his early seventies, is still holding forth in the San Francisco Bay area as a metal and ceramic sculptor. He has a large web site which has many of his creations, even going back as far as his nose and night pots of the early and mid sixties. His site is:

I like Bailey’s Mad Doctor ceramic series of 1974 at:

Bailey’s mad doctor series was a new genre of satire using ceramic sculpture. There really was no ceramic sculpture until Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) began using clay to make his abstract expressionist works in the fifties.

On see Bailey’s Mad Dentist ceramics, also of 1974.

Clayton Bailey even sells mouth bows he made – see

In the early sixties a group of University of Wisconsin art and music students met regularly to play improvised music,
based on renaissance, medieval, oriental and American folk music. Dennis Murphy was the leader of this group which included a young Clayton Bailey, a graduate student in art. Murphy introduced Bailey and myself to Jew’s harps and mouth bows. On the site above Bailey explains that “This two-stringed Kentucky Mountain Mouth Bow is a country cousin to the Jews Harp, or Jaw Harp. A mouth bow is essentially a wooden bow with two metal strings. Every instrument is different due to the shape of the tree and the tree root burl. They range in length from 3 to 5 feet long. The 2 strings are made of piano wire, and are tuned to the same note.”

On the site there is a few minutes of me playing a two stringed amplified mouth bow, and then Clayton Bailey playing his Jew’s harp, with Raleigh Williams on guitar and me on Chinese tom-tom.
The audio file is called “Real Music of 5710 Bittersweet Place.” That was the address of our house in Crestwood of Madison, Wisconsin in the early sixties.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s