Crowds of people spilled onto the curb of the path surrounding Lake Harriet Saturday evening, setting blankets down on the grass and unfolding lawn chairs.
The weekend marked the 25th ArtCar and ArtBike parade in Minneapolis, featuring a half-hour drive by of some of the most unique cars in the Twin Cities.
As onlookers craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the next car around the corner, a slow line of cars decorated in items like rubber ducks, paint and tiles made their way around the parkway.
Jan Elftmann, known in the community for her cork-covered car, started the first ArtCar parade in Minneapolis.
After making a call for ArtCar artists to participate in the 1995 Lyn-Lake Fair, she discovered a whole community of ArtCar enthusiasts who weren’t fully aware of each other’s existence.
“They all thought they were the only one,” she said. “So that was kind of a fun surprise for everyone.”
Since then, the parade has grown into an anticipated bi-annual event, with one parade in the summer and another in the winter hosted on frozen White Bear Lake.
For some eco-friendly artists, the parade has also expanded to include ArtBikes, decorated as papier-mâché frogs, butterflies and horses. Although some of the ArtCar and ArtBike owners are professional artists, having an artistic background is not a requirement.
“I really think about [some of these artists] in terms of the people who didn’t think about going to art school, but they have this creative urge,” Elftmann said. “And they may be a plumber, or they may work in government or work for Delta, but they have this urge to be creative and an ArtCar gives them this community and this outlet.”
Ruthann Godollei’s current ArtCar is a 1985 Volvo covered in thousands of screen-printed gears and gadget machinery.
She is what the ArtCar community calls a “daily driver.”
Unlike some artists who bring out their cars or bikes only for special occasions like the parade, “daily drivers” take their ArtCars everywhere, from trips to the grocery store, to work, to the gym.
“One thing about ArtCars is it’s open 24 hours a day, and it puts art in public spaces that is unusual to find,” Godollei said. “It puts art in parking lots, it puts art in traffic jams, it puts art in places [and] with people my gallery shows would never reach.”
Having worked on ArtCars for 35 years, Godollei loves that people make their cars completely their own.
“It puts a little wedge in the consumer worship of the pristine auto,” she said. “It defiles the sacred consumer object of the car and personalizes it, ... transforming an ordinary, everyday utilitarian thing and making it something completely unique, [which] is a wonderful thing to contemplate.”
For Tjody DeVaal, maintaining her ArtCar has been a rewarding journey of trial and error.
Covered completely in dominoes, Bananagrams tiles, plastic poker chips and themed chess sets, she said the “DOMINO TRX” gets a lot of looks on the highway.
“It’s a whole summer hobby,” she said. “Occasionally, I have to replace the ones that fall off.”
DeVaal said strangers will sometimes leave kind notes under the windshield wipers and others will drop off trinkets for her to add to the collection.
“Someone left me a pair of miniature glass Dutch shoes. They put it on the windshield,” she said. “I’m going to put it in a notebook one of these days, along with pictures of how [the car’s appearance has] progressed.”
As the procession ended and the families by the side of the road gathered up their belongings, many still chatted in admiration about their favorite designs and cars.
“It’s just a wonderful community of people who dare to work outside the norm of galleries [and] museums,” Elftmann said. “For me, ArtCars become a part of my everyday life. Our saying is ‘Every day is a parade in an ArtCar.’”