2 minute read

Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker (1958-)


Writer and editor Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker is the author of the imaginative picture book Bottle Houses: The Creative World of Grandma Prisbrey. Born in 1958, Slaymaker grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. She displayed an interest in writing at an early age, creating stories on a typewriter given to her by her father. After graduating from the University of Montevallo in Alabama, Slaymaker worked as a copywriter and circulation assistant for Southern Living magazine, located in Birmingham, Alabama. Since earning her master's degree in communications and journalism from the University of Tennessee, she has worked for a newspaper, a college, a medical center, the Department of Energy, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, and the Bertelsmann Foundation.

Bottle Houses developed from Slaymaker's fascination with visionary art. Similar to folk art, visionary art is produced by individuals without much formal training and reflects the personal vision of the artist. In 1989 Slaymaker viewed a documentary featuring Tessa "Grandma" Prisbrey, a visionary artist who created Bottle Village with found objects collected at the garbage dump in Simi Valley, California.

Prisbrey, who was born in 1896, had a difficult life. When she was age fifteen, her parents arranged her marriage to Theodore Grinolds, who was fifty-two years old; they eventually had seven children. During the 1920s Prisbrey and her children left Grinolds and settled in Minot, North Dakota, where she provided for her family by working as a waitress. She headed to the Pacific Northwest in the late 1930s and worked as a parts assembler for the Boeing Corporation during World War II, then moved to California, living in a trailer on her sister's property. She married construction worker Albert Prisbrey in 1947, and the couple purchased the lot in Simi Valley that has become the site of Bottle Village.

Prisbrey began work on the village in 1956. She used brightly colored bottles scavenged from a local dump as building material. Prisbrey's first structure was designed to house her collection of 17,000 commemorative pencils. The village eventually grew to thirteen buildings, including a rumpus room and a doll house, and a number of shrines, walkways, and wishing wells constructed from found objects such as car headlights and broken tiles. Prisbrey often entertained visitors, charging twenty-five cents for a tour of the grounds. In 1974 Bottle Village gained international attention. The artist died in 1988, and Bottle Village suffered extensive damage during a 1994 earthquake. Preservation efforts have helped restore some of the structures, and in 1996 the village was accepted onto the National Register of Historic Places.

In Bottle Houses, Slaymaker presents a biography of Prisbrey and describes the woman's unusual creations. Robin L. Gibson, reviewing the work in School Library Journal, applauded the author's "lively text" and observed that "direct quotes from Prisbrey add immediacy to the narrative." According to Horn Book reviewer Lolly Robinson, "Slaymaker presents free spirit Prisbrey with an appropriate combination of whimsy and respect," and a critic in Kirkus Reviews stated that the work explores "the distinctively individual ways the urge to create has expressed itself."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, March 1, 2004, Jennifer Mattson, review of Bottle Houses: The Creative World of Grandma Prisbrey, p. 1206.

Horn Book, July-August, 2004, Lolly Robinson, review of Bottle Houses, pp. 470-471.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2004, review of Bottle Houses, p. 229.

Publishers Weekly, April 26, 2004, review of Bottle Houses, p. 65.

School Arts, October, 2004, Ken Marantz, review of Bottle Houses, p. 66.

School Library Journal, September, 2004, Robin L. Gibson, review of Bottle Houses, p. 192.


M. E. Slaymaker Web site, http://www.meslaymaker.com (February 1, 2005).

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Paul Anthony Samuelson (1915– ) Biography to Bessie Smith (1895–1937) BiographyMelissa Eskridge Slaymaker (1958-) Biography - Awards, Honors, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Writings