Jeffrey City is a former uranium mining boomtown in central Wyoming. Back in the 70s, this windblown strip off the I-287 boasted over 800 mine workers and three bars, a bowling alley, motel and laundry. What remains today is a ghost town with a population of 58.
Byron lives in a decommissioned gas station off Highway 287. After years of studying pottery in Taos, NM, he moved to Jeffrey City to be close to his mother in Lander, WY. Since then he has gutted the interior and transformed the eroding concrete building into his dream work space, Monk King Bird Pottery. “It was supposed to be called Mockingbird Pottery,” he tells us, until the sign maker made a spelling mistake.
Jeffrey City is not for the faint of heart. Located halfway between Muddy Gap and Sweetwater Station on one of the loneliest highways in Wyoming, it is notorious for its debilitating winds and harsh, cold winters. Even during its boom days, residents of Jeffrey City lamented the lack of services and stark isolation of the region. Fatal mining accidents were not unheard of; drugs and alcohol were prevalent. After significant layoffs began in 1980, Jeffrey City continued further down a path of decay and obscurity.
The following set of images is an attempt to depict the complexity of a former boomtown seared by past memories of loss and abandonment, and inevitably, the soulful, resilient individuals that inhabit it. Furthermore, it is a dedication to Byron, a Jeffrey City fixture and dear friend.
Monk King Bird Pottery, as seen from Highway 287.
George L. Holt's New Map of Wyoming, cir 1885. Fremont County, where Jeffrey City is located, housed a number of boomtowns as indicated by the numerous "OIL" markers.
Byron's uncle's beat up VW bug, one of the many discarded vehicles on Byron's lot.
The west end of Jeffrey City, as seen from Highway 287.
Byron at work in his studio. Locals call him the "Mad Potter."
Locals say that the owner of this lot covered the building in religious insignia and bible scriptures for tax purposes.
Multiple open signs adorn Byron's front entrance to attract visitors.
Byron and his duck-taped shoes.
Visitors pull up to Byron’s lot daily to drop off firewood, borrow vehicles and trailers, or just to say hi.
A trailer that Byron reserves for guests and travelers.
Byron's mattress sits beside his pottery wheel.
Byron routinely leaves a sign for guests whenever stepping out of the studio. "Over there or at Chuck's. Make some noise! If I don't answer I am across the street or fishing. Feel free to browse. Thanks for stopping!"
Byron creating his trademark "shot pot," a vessel created by shooting a soft clay pot with a .22 and glazing it afterwards.
Chuck is an artist who lives next door. Upon returning from his service in Vietnam, he worked at an array of odd jobs including a slaughterhouse where he lost his right middle finger.
After his fifth stint in prison, Chuck decided to get sober and took up painting as recommended by a friend. "Art saved me," he says. As of July 2016, he has been sober for 23 years.
Artwork by Chuck. He tells us that it is a depiction of the future of mankind.
Chuck lives in a house that he built himself next to Byron's studio. He spends his days painting and helping maintain the lot.
Byron posing with Steve, owner of an auto salvage yard in Lander and Billy, an ex-miner who is a volunteer garbage collector for the town of Jeffrey City.
Byron playing pool at Split Rock Cafe, a local bar right across the street from his studio.
Byron tells us that the kilns keep the studio warm during the winter.