Byron Seeley is accustomed to living in a ghost town alongside spirits.
“Hi Chuck!” he calls out casually when walking into the wood-stove heated shack adjacent to his Jeffrey City pottery studio.
Chuck, a long-dead libertarian with a proclivity for anti-communist paintings, doesn’t answer, but the wind seems to blow through the walls in response.
Seeley has operated Monk King Bird Pottery out of a converted gas station on Jeffrey City’s main drag for 15 years. Even by Wyoming standards, the town is wind-scoured and puny, with a population of around 35. It’s a lonely landscape, but it’s what Seeley could afford, he said.
On a Friday afternoon, Seeley’s unruly hair is pushed away from his face with a sky-blue bandana that matches the color of his eyes, and the studio is in its usual state of disarray. “I can always clean it up and you can come back if you want to,” he says.
How’d Seeley come up with the name Monk King Bird Pottery anyhow? He says he was living in a ghost town around Martindale, Texas when Clint Eastwood arrived to direct the film “Perfect World.” The security guard for the production spent days carving a sign that was supposed to read “Mockingbird Pottery,” for the set, but it came out with a major typo. As Seeley tells it, the misspelling stuck.
Looking around the compound littered with cigarette butts, long-forgotten phone numbers scrawled on the walls and pots of pastel glaze, it can be hard to believe a Clint Eastwood production played a role in Seeley’s life. But it’s a good story.
For a hermetic man running a pottery shop from the desolate high plains between Rawlins and Lander, Seeley sells quite a few ceramics, or at least enough to get by. His pieces take on the muted tones and shapes of the desert, and seem to be made more by earth than by man. Decades of making bowls, vases, mugs and the occasional urn have made Seeley a master of his craft.
He’s also sort of famous. Coastal writers and photographers have captured Seeley on page and camera as he’s rifled bullet holes through unfired ceramic shot glasses and posed with his dog Floyd. He earned the moniker “The Mad Potter” of Jeffrey City. People who eschewed societal norms found their way to Seeley and spent days drinking around his fire pit and shooting guns before continuing their wayward journeys.
Now five years sober, life is different for Seeley. The fire pit has been transformed into a sculpture filled with blue-green bottles. He uses a BB gun rather than a .22 to create the “shot shot glasses.” (Seeley’s right to bear arms was revoked following a drug charge, he said.) His pool table is covered in tools and he no longer escapes the brutal winter months in Quartzsite, Arizona.
Instead, he waits for people to come to him. The long days spent sculpting and firing up a kiln alone make him an amicable host. He’s eager to show the occasional passerby his latest projects, or explain the paintings and photographs pinned on the walls.
Settling into a conversation with Seeley, time seems to warp as he jumps between past, present and pottery.