A deserted pyramid in regional Victoria houses carvings with real bite

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On the highway between Melbourne and Adelaide, an abandoned pyramid is home to possibly the strangest art Australia has ever produced.

The town of Stawell was once home to a theme park featuring miniature replicas of famous landmarks, including a pyramid.

But deep within the pyramid there was something strange – a collection of sculptures made of human teeth and prostheses.

The now closed Caspers World in Miniature in Stawell, 235km northwest of Melbourne.(ABC Ballarat: Rhiannon Stevens)

With its large display cases and haunting aura, Norma Cosson says the pyramid was a perfect place to display dental art.

“A lot of little kids didn’t like to go there because it was quite dark.”

‘Recycling Services’

Mrs. Cosson bought the now closed tourist park in the 1980s with her late husband David Lye, a dentist, jeweler and creator of the surprising sculptures.

a photo of a sculpture of a castle with a man lying in a pool.  The castle is made of human teeth.
A postcard from Casper’s world in miniature, featuring David Lye’s Tooth Fairy Castle sculpture. (Provided: Twitter)

Speaking to The Age in 2000, Dr Lye said: ‘As I neared the end of my career as a dentist, I noticed that I had a lot of material left.

So he set about creating sculptures out of dental materials and what he estimated to be over 18,000 false teeth.

The Age would later salute Dr. Lye for his “services to recycling”.

Dr Lye, who Ms Cosson said was known to drive around the Western District in a Mercedes-Benz with a big fiberglass dent in place of the car badge, liked to reuse things that he collected, including people’s teeth.

‘If he fired [teeth] outside and they didn’t want to take them, they would be cleaned up at the end of the day…and he would put them in a box,” Cosson said.

a small sculpture made of teeth and jewelry in the shape of a lizard.
A sculpture made of repurposed teeth and jewelry by David Lye.(ABC Ballarat: Rhiannon Stevens)

A unique collection

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But the inspiration behind some sculptures was personal and included real human teeth.

Ms Cosson’s daughter, Samantha McIntosh, said her stepfather turned a difficult time for the family into art.

When his young son was diagnosed with leukemia and started losing his teeth, he would send his teeth to Dr. Lye to be made into a ‘tooth fairy castle’.

“Instead of the kids worrying, he was trying to make it fun,” Ms McIntosh said.

When the couple acquired the tourist park, which they named Caspers World in Miniature, the pyramid was already there. It had been built a few years earlier as the city’s information center, Ms. Cosson said.

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carved teeth

Over the years they added exhibits, a restaurant, and eventually the jewelry and sculptures that Dr. Lye produced.

Nephew of famous New Zealand artist and filmmaker Len Lye, Ms Cosson says her husband’s family were lovely eccentrics and David was no different.

a woman and a man hold an antique vase.
David Lye and Norma Cosson in the early 1990s.(Provided by: Norma Cosson)

She raises her hands in the air and smiles, thinking of the joy her eccentricities bring to those around her.

“He was always busy…he was just interested in life,” she said.

There are more than a hundred tooth sculptures, Ms. Cosson estimates, each with a story behind its creation.

They will probably outlive us all.

A woman holds a small photo in front of the camera.
Norma Cosson, with a photo of her late husband David Lye.(ABC Ballarat: Rhiannon Stevens)

Teeth are made of calcium phosphate, says Dr Jeremy Sternson, president of the Australian Dental Association in Victoria, which means they don’t break easily.

Normally, dentists remove teeth via infection bins that are incinerated, and Dr Sternson said he hasn’t come across much dentistry.

“Love ’em or hate ’em”

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Today, Mrs. Cosson still owns the property and the pyramid still stands, but the Caspers World in Miniature tourist park is closed.

But for those who come across memories, the teeth continue to intrigue.

“Some people thought it was awful, because it’s teeth,” Ms Cosson said.

“But some people thought it was really smart.”

When asked if Dr Lye cared about people’s reactions to the sculptures, Ms Cosson said she didn’t think so.

Speaking to Ballarat’s Courier newspaper in 2004, several years before his death, Dr Lye said people were still reacting strongly to tooth carvings.

“They either love them or they hate them,” he said.

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