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By Marian Liu
Seattle Times staff reporter – June 2010
Fake eyeballs, rainbows, shoes and plastic soldiers — that’s what art cars are made of.
This weekend, more than 50 wildly decorated cars from all over the nation and Canada cruise into Seattle’s annual Art Car Blowout. Now in its 11th year at the Fremont Fair, it rivals Minneapolis as the second-largest show in the U.S., behind the hub of the movement — Houston — where 300-some art cars parade the streets every spring.
“It’s a really supportive community here,” said Kelly Lyles, the event’s coordinator. Unlike in some cities, the Seattle exhibition isn’t juried. “So the guy who slaps house paint on his car … to the professional sculptor are totally welcome.”
The term “art car” is very broad — encompassing everything from custom paint jobs to glued-on doodads to oddly-shaped chassis; one car coming to Seattle this week looks like a larger-than-life red wagon.
Usually folks get into making art cars for fun, often using old vehicles, said the “King” of the art-car scene, Harrod Blank, who’s coming from the Southwest to this year’s Blowout. He has more than 500 art-car enthusiasts in his database and estimates many more are involved.
“In a way, it’s shaking up the status quo of the automobile,” said Blank, who has documented the scene in books and films. “It’s what we think the car should be — more fun, more colorful, more expressive.”
It’s certainly an extension of Lyles’ personality. She affectionately nicknamed her art car “Excessories Odd-yssey” and covered it with a variety of shoes, purses and jewelry. Among other things, the hood sports a magnetic paper doll.
The 53-year-old painter from West Seattle first got into the scene when she was looking for a car 20 years ago. She was going to buy a used Subaru but opted for a Ford Pinto instead, with fewer miles.
“I was mortified to be seen in it, so I decorated it like a horse, glued little horses on it,” said Lyles.
“I custom-painted it with brown and white spots like a pinto pony, with horse hood ornaments, a cowboy and Indian diorama in the back. The blinkers played ‘Love Me Tender.’ ”
Some art cars can be driven, but others don’t even run. Blank, for example, had to tow his car (covered with random objects and called “Oh My God!”) behind a minivan.
But for longtime exhibit participant Leith Zeutenhorst, her art car was a welcome diversion. Years ago, after she was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer, she made her mother’s 1982 Ford Futura into a rainbow art car named “Joyride.”
“I was so happy to come out of the hospital and see my art car,” said Zeutenhorst, a 54-year-old artist from Camas, Clark County. “Now I take my friends to their mammogram appointments in my car.”
Her 88-year-old mother was at first horrified to see what happened to the car, but saw the effect it had on people.
“I guess it’s just a happy car,” said her mother, Nada Jarvis. “It makes people smile, and be happy. It offers good transportation, too.”