Tyler Bush's "Claytown" is a project 20 years in the making.
A miniature city made of modeling clay, complete with houses, cars, roads, a downtown area with places for dining and entertainment, and recreational facilities that include lakes filled with yachts, whales and pirate ships, this is no ordinary undertaking. There also happen to be near-replicas of the White House, the Taj Mahal and castles from animated Disney features. It is a world unto itself, where claymation characters like Wallace and Gromit might be right at home, but there are no figures in Claytown: It is strictly the stomping ground of Bush, his family and his friends.
Tyler Bush, who is charge of events and promotions at BW, started working on his project in the fifth grade when he was 10 years old. It was a continuation of his work in the medium, which started in the first grade during "inside recess." In the third grade, he entered an art contest at his school in Post Falls, Idaho.
"Everyone else was doing crayon or pencil drawings or paintings," says Bush. "So I decided to enter two little figures that looked like anteaters. I was the only entry in the sculpture division and so, of course, won first place." This, ladies and gentlemen, is how a lifelong mission begins.
Those figures became the beginnings of Bush's town of clay.
"I had them on a shelf, and I decided that they needed a house," says Bush. "I built a 1-foot by 1-foot manor home for them. Then they needed a place for their friends to stay, so I built a hotel. I thought they needed a business, so I built them a carwash. Soon enough, I kicked the figures out and it became all for me."
This town of clay became Claytown, a world where Bush could create an ongoing utopian vision that was based on his experiences in the real world while remaining firmly grounded in fantasy. It became the place where Bush could focus his energy, develop his artistic talent and give his vibrant imagination a destination.
"It's kind of an awkward project," says Bush. "I mean, how do I drop the bomb in a conversation: 'Oh, by the way, here's a town I made out of modeling clay and I've been working on it since I was 10 years old'? I think that's why most people don't know I created it."
Its history traces the life of a young artist.
"There was a big boom in development in the early years," says Bush. "All of my friends were into sports, and I wasn't really, so I would stay home and sculpt." As he grew up, his travels became inspirations for his creation. "I started to build monuments that I had seen on vacation," he says. Bush built a replica of the Mirage Casino in Las Vegas, and then built his own version, called the Rolls Casino, which looks like a Rolls Royce driving out of the mountain side. "Like any good town, there is a multi-billion dollar casino," he laughs. It is also a green town, with zero emissions and thousands of trees.
"I can build whatever I want wherever I want," says Bush. "There are no city planners to deal with. I am the city planner, mayor, president and czar."
The development of Claytown was determined by two things: what Bush needed and how it could be stored. The town is built on poster board that measures 1 foot by 2 feet. By necessity, the town was laid out long and narrow. In its full glory it extends 1 foot by 36 feet, although for storage purposes it is divided into four sections. Bush says he lives on one end of the top level of the town, surrounded by monuments, and his friends live on the lower levels. Each person is represented by a tiny car, created with details down to the steering wheels and bucket seats. Sometimes, when he is mad at someone, Bush will move them out of their homes and into a gold-plated cardboard box. "People can definitely have their privileges taken away," says Bush.
Bush's friends take a lively interest in Claytown. "It became an icon during elementary school, and that continued through high school," says Ryan White, who has known Bush since the second grade. "It really became a part of everyone's lives."
In Claytown, White lives in a model of the house that he grew up in. "The replica of my house is exact: There's even a trampoline in the back yard, and the car is exactly the same car that my mom used to drive." White became the self-appointed president of the Homeowners Association of Claytown.
"We wondered why Tyler got to live in this big house, so we decided to form an organization," says White. "He's pretty good about keeping services up. I'd say he's a benevolent dictator."
"I think I'm pretty gracious," says Bush. "I mean, no one has to have a job or anything."
Claytown has accompanied Bush throughout his life, in custom-built crates designed to fit entirely in his car. It traveled with him from Coeur d' Alene to college at The Art Institute of Los Angeles. There, Bush worked in computer animation.
"Strangely enough, I was trying to do on the computer what I know I can do by hand," he says.
Claytown received some attention at the Boise Open Studios Collective Organization in 2005, during which he opened his studio to the public for first time. It is currently being displayed at Foxtrot Style for Living in Boise's Linen District.
"We were lucky to meet Mr. Bush," says Erica Matthews, who owns Foxtrot with her husband, Tom. "We have been displaying his other artwork, and he has been designing our Web site for us. One day he mentioned that he had been working on a project for 20 years. It's amazing to work on one thing for one year, but 20 is absolutely intriguing. We said, 'Let's get it in here.'"
"This is very therapeutic for me," says Bush. In his statement on the piece, he writes, "Claytown represents my life as it is and my life as I want it to be. Everything I have ever seen or wanted to see is here. For me, it's a perfect world into which I can always escape when I want to just relax and create."
Could he ever part with something that has been so much a part of his life? "I've tried to figure out if Claytown could ever be for sale," he says. "I think it would have to be for an amount that would allow me to take a year off so that I could re-create it." Even so, he says he would be up for doing commissioned pieces for interested parties. "I'd love to work with developers, so that they could have a model of their project that would also be a piece of art."
Claytown will be on display at Foxtrot until the end of February.
"This is the longest I've been away from it," says Bush. "I keep visiting it." If you happen to be lucky enough to catch him there, be sure to ask him to take you on a tour. It's quite a trip.
For photos of Claytown and Bush's artwork, visit AwkwardGallery.com. To see Claytown in person, stop into Foxtrot Style for Living, 1419 W. Grove St., 208-344-0979.