How does an art car get born?
Like a lot of interesting things in this world, this one came about through a series of events which culminated in serendipitous beauty, but originated in what could reasonably be seen as small disasters.
Hanging out playing music in the back garden at a friend’s harvest party, several of us were suddenly disturbed by the sounds of a car screeching and crashing. At first the sentiment of most was that we shouldn’t go out there, since that might seem invasively gawking, even ghoulish. But since I have a bit of emergency medical training, I went out to the street to see if anyone was hurt – and discovered that one of the cars that had been destroyed was mine. An elderly gent had had some sort of stroke and lost control of his car. First he glanced off the side of one parked car on the side of the road, then embedded his Prius into a second car further down. The impact pushed that car (which turned out to be our fiddler’s) forward, where it whacked into a third car – mine. My mind later reveled in the oddness of this: a four-car wreck with only one driver involved. While safely parked in a suburban residential neighborhood, my beloved Jeep Wagoneer got “totalled.”
The word is in quotes because that Jeep was a 1987 model and thus made of steel, so even though the Prius that did the deed crumpled up like an old aluminum can, the only real damage to my Jeep was a tightly fitting front fender with a slight hunchback, a mushed-in back fender, a hatchback that would no longer stay shut, and broken left tail lights.
However, due to its age and the little detail that it had around 276,000 miles on it, the insurance company reckoned it would cost more than the car is worth to restore it to pristine condition. But it was still in beautiful condition and ran well. So while I agreed that trying to bring back its flawless youth was silly, I still wanted to be able to drive it awhile longer without getting a ticket or asphyxiating.
So I bought my own car back from the offending driver’s insurance company (!) and with the money, purchased the needed replacement parts online from a dedicated Jeep junkyard. All I needed now was skilled mechanical help to put it back together.
My friend and former colleague Tom offered to do the repair work. Because our place of work had closed down and we were both pretty broke, he generously offered to do this labor for trade.
My trade would be to turn his VW bug into an art car.
This car was one ugly beetle. Its exterior was half a sickly jaundiced yellow with some primer sections and some black spots and some old reddish patches that looked for all the world like old dried blood. And to top all this off, it had a smattering of enormous black rubber spiders glued to its hood. I wish I had a close-up – wait, no I don’t. Major creepy!
I figured I was doing a public service in catalyzing this vehicle’s transformation to beauty.
Tom had the idea of covering it with REAL foliage, like a moveable jungle planter! Imagine driving down the road on your daily commute. Getting hungry while stuck in traffic? Simply pluck a fruit from the vines growing on your fender! Ahh. While amused and somewhat enchanted by this idea, I was thinking that there is no practical way for such a thing to endure the windspeed of car travel.
But it turns out that others have dreamed the same dream.
In the end, however, we decided that painting was the way to go.
We did some research into materials and wound up buying regular semi-gloss outdoor house paints, albeit the most eco-friendly sort we could find. I chose the hues. In preparation, Tom sanded and primed the bug, taped the windows, and gave it a base coat of the light yellow. Meanwhile, I drew leaves in three sizes and shapes, one for each color, then cut out foam stamps of them for folks to easily use.
Then we held an art car painting party.
The invitation to Tom’s friends and family read:
Invitation to Join In on the Creation of an Art Car!!!
Tom Devlin’s Bug will transform into a Leafy Wonder under our hands
Sun Sept 14
11 am – done
All art materials provided.
Beverages & munchies welcome.
Wear paint-friendly clothing.
rsvp/questions beforehand to the head car-tiste Tina Fields, [phone #]
[Directions to site]
We were too busy to take many photos, but here’s one of the car in progress. It was a real community affair. Tom’s mom is stencilling on the hood. I’m placing the flow and hand-painting in leaf edging details on the driver’s side. Several other car-tistes also had a hand in it. When the day’s work was done, we all enjoyed a table laden with celebratory potluck goodies.
Tom later completed the fenders and worked his wizardry on other details as well, including juicing up the interior some.
Here’s the final product on the streets!
Tom’s renovated bug received many hearty resurrection welcomes, transformed as it is from the decaying insect underworld into the Leafy Wonder, a lovely Art Car. He gets comments about it everywhere he goes – and now, they’re exclamations of appreciation. Plus as a bonus, he can always find his vehicle in the parking lot.
* Tom is all fired up about this and now wants to make more of these. If you want to have an Art Car Party too, write me and we’ll set something up!
* Postscripts to Act I: Aside from a couple of bruises, the elderly gent did not seem hurt by the accident, which had taken place at a very slow speed. We found out his address – just a few doors down – and fetched his wife, who hadn’t known he was out with the car. The ambulance came shortly thereafter. His Prius, which took the blow for him, was *truly* totalled.
* My Jeep wound up lasting one more year, then I traded it off in the Cash for Clunkers program. The gummint gave me $4500 in trade for it. (Woo-hoo!) I was quite sorry to see it go to its death – it still looked beautiful, ran well, and might have still had another year left on its transmission; but then again, it might not. It would have been better, I think, to put those old cars to some limited use, perhaps with a special “clunker” license plate, rather than destroy them. But this Jeep was exactly what the program was intended to bring in. It had been a good car that served my family and others well for 22 years.
RIP, beloved 4-wheel drive and hello, new Honda Fit in the appropriately named hue of ‘Revolution Orange.’ This is my first new car, and also my last. By the time “Acorn Squash” is 22 years old like the Jeep was, I figure we’ll not be using cars any more.
But for the time being, along with walking and biking and train riding, etc., when we use our cars, we may as well enjoy them. It felt great to extend the life of a beloved old car like this VW bug, and through simple and inexpensive artistic means, to help others appreciate it too. It was also great to barter time and skills, thus enhancing both our lives without the need to involve money.
May the Leafy Wonder enjoy many more springs.