Body paint isn’t just for naked cyclists. It’s also the medium used to rehab old cars. At the Solstice Parade, the country’s third largest collection of art cars will be displayed.
If you find yourself stuck at the intersection of Fremont Ave. and 34th St. on June 16, you may have inadvertently booked yourself a front-row seat to the most unique, if not breeziest ride in town. The Summer Solstice Parade, an annual event that kicks-off the Fremont Fair, begins with cyclists, riding through the streets in little more than a coat of paint. But there’s another group of wheeled artists getting attention for their unusually decorated bodies.
The Fremont Fair is home to the Seattle Art Car Blowout, the third largest art car gathering in the nation.
“It has become a draw and something that people really look forward to,” says Lara Weigand, a member of Seattle Art Cars, a group of about 40 people, who host the event each June. “People get to see something that they might not expect. It’s part of a larger event, but I hear people say that sometimes they come just for the art cars.”
The Fremont Fair takes place June 16 and 17. The event is free, with all donations going directly to fund Solid Ground, formerly the Fremont Public Association. Last year, the fair raised $57,000. This year, Solid Ground aims to raise $85,000 through donations, all of which will go to programs that provide shelter, food, advocacy and care for low-income families and individuals throughout King County.
“When you’re coming to the fair and dropping five dollars in a box, it goes directly to a homeless family,” says Mike Buchman, communications manager at Solid Ground.
In addition to hosting the Art Car Blowout, Solid Ground is teaming up with United Way and Habitat for Humanity to build a house at the fair for the first time. About 140 volunteers will help build a single family, three-bedroom home, before taking it apart, stacking it on a truck and moving it to a sight on Snoqualmie Ridge to house a formerly homeless family.
Buchman acknowledges that providing housing for just one family doesn’t make a huge impact, but he says the project is a way to raise awareness and get the community involved in the fight to end homelessness.
The project will take place adjacent to the Art Car Blowout, a combination that captures the spirit of the fair.
“It’s a nice mesh of creative spirit and social mission,” Buchman says.
One of the cars that will be on display will be Weigand’s Floppy Disk Car, a 1998 Honda Civic plastered with computer keys and, of course, floppy disks.
“I wanted to make an art car, something kind of whimsical,” Weigand says. “It came to me one day that floppy disks are a very cheap thing to acquire and they wouldn’t add any significant weight to the car. I had a bunch from thrift stores and when you ask people, you find out they have a lot in closets or storage.”
She drove the car for about a year before she started decorating it. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for the attention.
“It took me a while before I said, ‘Okay, this is something I really want to do and I’m prepared for the fact that I can never go anonymously to the grocery store again,’” Weigand says.
Weigand painted each disk and glued them to every visible surface of the car. She lined the windows with keyboard keys, decorated the dash with sheets of old punch cards, adhered “esc” keys to the door locks, glued processor chips to the hubcaps and added a personalized license plate that reads “DISKDRV.”
She’s used to the attention she receives, but dislikes the most common remark: “You must have a lot of time on your hands!”
“There’s an art car artist that has a sticker on his car that says, ‘I did this while you were watching TV’,” Weigand says. “It’s not like having too much time on your hands, it’s making time so you can have an art project and pull it off.”
Attention is part of the fun. Just ask Kelly Lyles, who drives a 1989 “Zoobaru” DL named Leopard Bernstein, after her childhood toy.
The hand-painted leopard-spotted station wagon sports the face of a Snow Leopard that fills the hood and the roof is chock-full of hundreds of feline-theme toys from Tigger to the Lion King.
“It’s constant acknowledgement, you can’t be anonymous, you can’t be in a hurry,” Lyles says. “My roommate once borrowed the car and said you always have to allow that extra 20 minutes because people always want to talk to you.”
But it’s worth it, says Lyles.
“It’s a happy thing,” she says. “I get great parking karma. The police are nicer. People assume the police harass you, but they have a sense of humor and for the most part they like us.”
The West Seattle resident, who makes a living painting pet portraits, claims to be one of the original car artists in the area, but is happy to see the trend growing.
“When I first did mine there was only one other in town that I knew of,” she says. “Now every week I hear, ‘Have you seen this one or heard of that one?’”
This year the Fremont Fair expects to host about 75 art cars, according to Lyles.
“The art cars are spectacular,” Buchman says. “People just stream to the art car area, it’s one of the most popular areas of the fair.”
The Seattle Art Car Blowout, smaller than similar events in Houston and San Francisco, attracts artists from all over the United States, including Florida and Texas. Members of Seattle Art Cars raise money to feed, house and pay for gas for exhibiting car artists.
Josh Keller, a Seattle middle school teacher, decided to turn his Mazda MX6 into an art car after the paint began to oxidize and chip off. He was paging through a magazine while waiting for an appointment when the idea hit.
“It was in my mind to paint my car and I was just sort of waiting for the right thing to come along,” he says. “I saw this National Geographic and it was an article on the Moors in Spain and Morocco and I just liked it and thought that it would look really good on a car.”
Keller cut patterns from a sheet magnet, traced the kaleidoscope-like design and intricately painted the car in blues, yellows and reds. He put 180 hours into “Fez,” named after a city in Morocco, before he stopped counting.
He’ll display his car at the fair, where he serves as the food wrangler for participants in the Blowout.
“It’s a good way to get to know people,” Keller says of the event. “This is a great way to get people to be social for no other reason than they have a wacky hobby or perhaps a similar bent sense of humor, a sense of the absurd.”
Keller will be showcasing his talent at the fair when he decorates his 92-year-old adopted grandmother’s blue-gray station wagon.
The opportunity arose after his grandmother’s boyfriend was in a car accident in his blue-gray vehicle. She did some research and found that dark colored cars are more prone to car crashes.
She asked Keller if he had any ideas for colors. He does. He has free reign and plans on painting a portrait of Woody Guthrie and lots of flowers in, of course, bright colors.