What is it about art cars that mirror so accurately the attitude of Houston? For better or for worse, we are a sprawling, commuter megalopolis that's dependent on automobiles to savor what's special about the city. Top that with an overall anything-goes, creative spirit and out comes a prime environment to birth a more than a quarter of a century tradition, one which takes place this weekend.
Inclement weather won't stop the 26th Annual Houston Art Car Parade from strutting down the streets of downtown, which includes 269 cars — 110 of them new — assembled by 265 artists and 25 school and youth groups.
Due to heavy rains that peppered the Houston area, the Saturday parade has been moved to 3 p.m. The parade route will open to the public at 1 p.m. in addition to the FPSF Stage featuring Disco Daddies and Bang Bangz, the Kids Zone with children's art activities and the VIPit area.
Keep an eye out for CultureMap' favorites below. We've chosen five art cars brand new to the parade, each of whom have a curious account of how they came to be.
Big Red by Kirk Strawn
Think of the tale of Big Red, the car, as a-riches-to-rags-to-riches story that ends happily ever after. When Big Red came into the world as a Walter Class 1500 crash truck in 1959, it spent many years being a hero whose job was to put out fires at an airport in Minneapolis — thus the nickname. But its glory days came to a halt after being laid out to pasture. The world wasn't kind to this rusty old fellow — he was about to be scrapped.
Kirk Strawn recognized Big Red's potential. With a coterie of smiths in Arizona and Iowa who together call themselves The Walter Project, Big Red was rescued. The group claims Big Red is the world's biggest off-road beetle, a carbon copy of the Volkswagen Baja Bug. This "new" four-cylinder, air-cooled diesel engine, chain-driven vehicle hit the road from its home in Scottsdale, Ariz., to Burning Man in Nevada and to Houston for its Art Car Parade debut.
Tribute Artcar to Artist Enid Collins by Sam VanBibberh
Fashion designer Enid Collins' whimsical purses were the cats meow in the '60s and '70s. From her family's ranch in Bandera and later from her shop in Medina, her business flourished when Neiman Marcus committed to carrying her line of handbags, which were painted on wood boxes handmade by Collins' husband.
Tickled by Collins' successful venture, VanBibberh's Tribute Artcar to Artist Enid Collins reawakens her story. Happy scenes that nod to Collins' designs envelop a 1992 Nissan that was given to her by The Pink Door, an organization that grants wishes to breast cancer survivors.
EarthRover1 by Dion Laurent
Much of what Dion Laurent says through paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture and video is rooted in the seven years he spent gallivanting around the globe with a backpack outfitted with art supplies. EarthRover1 is no exception — particularly in his desire to incite dialogue about social and environmental issues.
EarthRover1 was built by hand. The solar-powered and electric invention was mainly fashioned from wood, metal and found objects. Above the chassis that's supported by six electric wheels on a rocker-bogie suspension is a terrarium and algae oxygen supply system designed to function as a bio-regenerative life support system. Laurent drafted EarthRover1 to further study the environment.
Gartenzwegland by Magda Boltz-Wilson
Contemporary zeitgeist says that gnomes are mischievous underground creatures. But artist Magda Boltz-Wilson nods to the little guys' Germanic side in her art car Gartenzwegland. With the gnome, a symbol of respect for the natural world combined with a quirky sense of humor, she hopes to raise awareness about the newly founded German Center of Houston.
Gartenzwegland is a 1979 Volkswagen Beetle that has been converted into a German bucolic setting colonized by the curious characters.
Heroicar by Andy Hazell
Powered by coffee and donuts with sprinkles, Andy Hazell crafted Heroicar out of wood and aluminum in two weeks — how's that for a gent of English provenance? Hazell, whose five former art car entries make him a veteran of the genre, sketches a fantastical tale of an oblivious motorist from a far away land who's saved from radioactive demise — or heartburn — by a strange giant sporting ill-fitting tights.