RICHARD KLEIN’s “whimsey bottles” are based on a ninetieth and early twentieth century folk art tradition that was particularly strong on the eastern end of Long Island and on Cape Cod. The writer and art critic B.H. Friedman, a novelist and art critic who wrote the first biography of Jackson Pollock and who was active in Provincetown’s fledgling Fine Arts Work Center, extensively collected them and gave his collection to the Folk Art Museum in New York.
Friedman wrote, ‘Most familiar in the form of a ship-in-a-bottle, whimsey bottles were actually created in a variety of motifs, created mostly by those in isolated, confined or alienated situations, like sailors, farmers, prisoners or lumbermen. Because they required so much time and focus, whimsey bottles were usually made to help pass the time or allay loneliness, or to distract the mind. They offered demonstrations of skill and tokens of affection for those returning home.
Alcoholics and the chronically ill also created those whimseys which were almost always made from liquor or over-the-counter medicine bottles. The original contents killed pain, loneliness or time, the creation of what replaced the liquids may have served the same function. Sometimes after the constructions were finished the bottles were refilled with water to simulate alcohol.
Created with patience and skill, the bottles themselves were never altered. What was wider than the mouth of the bottle had to be folded outside the bottle and opened inside, or glued, hinged or assembled once inside, using tweezers, scalpels, pliers and probes. Except for the bottle-in-a-ship whimsies, these bottles stand upright.’