Just before finishing up here hours as an intern here at KHS, Folklife Intern Jenn Jameson visited Louisville to document the unique tradition of art cars. With fellow folklorist Joseph O'Connell, she shares the end product of a few hours doing fieldwork for the Kentucky Folklife Program.
Each year, Louisville’s Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (KMAC) stages the Kentucky Art Car Weekend [link: http://www.kentuckyartcarweekend.com], an event that brings together people who have transformed their vehicles into mobile, public artworks. During the Weekend, participating car artists present these eye-catching vehicles at meet-and-greets in front of the KMAC and in a parade through the city’s Crescent Hill neighborhood.
2010 marked the event’s 10th anniversary. On August 6th, Kentucky Folklife Program [link: http://folklife.ky.gov] fieldworkers Joseph O’Connell and Jennifer Jameson documented the occasion through photography and sound-recorded interviews. The following photo essay and audio report present highlights from their fieldwork at the Art Car Weekend for KFP.
Appearing in the audio report are the voices of C.M. and Grace Kelly Laster of Crofton, Ky.; Sonny Fenwick of New Albany, Ind.; Jen “Cricket” Bidwell of Louisville, Ky.; Tom Maguire of Lexington, Ind.; and Karen Welch, Director of Programming at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.
Sonny Fenwick, of New Albany, Indiana, brought the “Bubble Monster,” a purple, triclopsed sedan with a bubble-spouting tail. Fenwick has fashioned a business out of his four art cars, each with his signature Bubble motif:
“I started with a [bubble] truck - now I have a bus, a pirate ship and a monster, and it’s all about bubbles…the bubbles are now a full-time job.”
Fenwick exhibits his “interactive” cars at children’s birthday parties, corporate events, weddings, and library visits, letting kids and parents alike manufacture bubbles through the cars, crawl through the tunnel of the Bubble Monster, change the sails on the Bubble Pirate Ship, and so on.
“So the art car thing has actually turned into a way of life for me, a business […] The bubble business is good.”
C.M. and Grace Kelly Laster of Western Kentucky are full time, self-proclaimed visionary artists who have crafted several art cars inspired by their homeplace, their travels, their relationship to other roadside or visionary artists of the South, such as Howard Finster (GA) and John Henry Toney (AL), and of course, their daughter Ruby Elvis Rose – “The World’s Youngest Female Elvis,” according to her father.
For the Art Car Parade, they drove out their most recent art car, “Laster Blaster’s Inter-Gallactic Shack-allac.”
Howard Finster was a big influence on us…so it’s like a tribute [to him.] – C.M. Laster
References to their home state of Kentucky, in a Finster-inspired style: Bill Monroe, Loretta Lynn, Route 23 – the Country Music Highway.
Their daughter Ruby has also made a few mini-art cars of her own, providing her variation of the Laster Blaster tradition.
Tom Maguire, a Registered Nurse from Southern Indiana brought his “Christmas Car” to the parade, decked-out with tinsel, peppermint-painted hub caps, and a holiday music-blasting boombox outfitted to look like a Christmas present.
With the invention of LED lights, he figured out he could power Christmas lights through his car’s cigarette lighter. After tinkering with the lights he added a sort of Christmas-tree inspired canopy held up by decorated toilet plungers, among other creative holiday-themed assemblages.
I actually have a remote control for the Christmas lights…Sometimes I just park it outside the hospital and turn [them] on and off with the remote! – Tom Maguire
The first to drive a lighted and decorated car in the Scott County, Indiana Christmas Parade, Tom has since started a trend, as other have followed suit, decorating their cars, bikes, and even horses with Christmas lights for the holiday parade.
Louisvillian Jen “Cricket” Bidwell has incorporated design elements from her expertise as a metalworker in the creation of her third art car, “Betty.”
Using scrap metal from her work as inspiration in the spray-painted design motif, and creatively cutting and placing metal blades, “fins,” and glass-blown “sunroof windows,” Jen has created Betty through the craft skill of her occupational life, and through the creative influence of her circle of artist friends.
It’s almost as if now, I would feel strange driving a plain car. – Jen “Cricket” Bidwell
Karen Welch, Director of Programming at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, helped launch the first Kentucky Art Car Weekend, and continues to play a key role in the event’s organization. Welch says that she appreciates bring car artists together, seeing the way they influence one another, and raising public awareness of their work.
See the rest of our photos from the parade and events at the Kentucky Folklife Programs’ Flickr page.
-- Jennifer Jameson and Joseph O’Connell, Kentucky Folklife Program