Humor drives these artists to turn their vehicles into art cars

After you've covered your Subaru with 700 plastic lions and tigers, what do you do with it? If you're Kelly Lyles, the owner of "Leopard Bernstein," you spend a lot of time on the road.

Last weekend, she drove to a Combine Demolition Derby in Eastern Washington. This weekend, she'll be part of the Fremont Fair and Solstice Parade.

Lyles helps run Seattle Art Cars, a loose coalition of 40 local art-car owners who like to caravan together to events.

"These cars bring smiles to people," Lyle said. "The common denominator among people who create them is a sense of humor. Other than that, the owners of art cars run the gamut of economics and education."

The art-car gathering in Fremont started a few years ago and has grown every year. It is now one of the largest art-car displays on the West Coast.

"Houston is the mecca of art-car people," Lyle said. "They draw about 250 cars a year, the parade is televised and maybe 300,000 people see the event."

For the Fremont event, Lyle is expecting approximately 60 cars, including several from out of state. "People were supposed to register back in May, and that was our head count approximately two weeks ago," she said.

"However, art-car people are also notoriously flaky about things like deadlines. I'm still getting calls from people who are planning to come," she added.

When people see Lyle's leopard car, the first two questions are almost always "Do the police stop you?" and "What kind of glue do you use?"

"I have been waved over by the cops a few times," Lyle said. "But they just wanted to ask about the car and what kind of glue that I use."

Gluing plastic animals on the car is only one way to decorate a vehicle. Other ways to create an art car include painting it or, for those who are fond of metalwork, changing the original structure of the vehicle so it becomes a moving sculpture.

"Sometimes people ask when are you done with an art car?" Lyle said. "And most of us say, 'when you run out of empty space on the outside.' But, of course, a lot of us are starting on the interiors of our cars."

Lyle began gluing critters on her "Leopard Bernstein" several years ago and is still adding items today.

Like most Art Car owners, Lyle's Subaru is her main form of transportation, and she's careful to keep her car roadworthy as well as fantastically decorated.

"There's one guy, who had a working waterfall on his car, who got cited for unsafe load," Lyle said. "It's a shame, as he has more than 350,000 miles on it."

The out-of-state waterfall driver e-mailed Lyle that he wasn't going to make the Fremont Fair this year.

"I really don't like computers," said Lyle, who makes her living as a visual artist. "But I spend hours every day e-mailing people about art-car events."

Lyle also spends time fund-raising to help people make it to the event. Because most art-car drivers don't have a lot of extra money, the rise in gas prices has cut down participation in events.

Seattle Art Cars tries to help people with gas money for the Fremont event, find them a place to stay and even provide some meals for the course of the weekend.

"Fund-raising is my least favorite part of the event," Lyle admitted.

The art cars will be on display both Saturday, June 19, and Sunday, June 20. On Sunday morning, a procession of art cars will make their way from Golden Gardens Park to the fair site.

If you're interested in learning more about how to turn your car into a work of art, start with Seattle Art Cars' own website: www.seattleartcars. org.

"There's lots of information out there on the Web, as well as some really good books," said Lyle, who recommends Harrod Blank's book, "Art Cars: the Car, the Artists, the Obsession, the Craft."

Rosemary Jones writes about entertainment and the arts. Her column appears the first and third weeks of each month. E-mail her at healingpgs@

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