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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Palmer

The Evolution of Karmadillo

Our cars have long reflected our individual tastes and style: from the ones we choose to purchase to the modifications and customizations we pursue. The Art Car Movement is recognized in the American west as a growing folk art phenomenon, one that embraces a used vehicle of any type as an artistic canvas. Beginning as a grassroots parade in Houston, Texas, the Art Car Movement has in recent years spread to include multiple parades, including San Francisco and Seattle, as well as the establishment of Art Cartopia Museum operating in Trinidad, CO.

Art cars have been created using all kinds of media – from the use of paint to create a more attractive version of a recognized vehicle, to the creation of ‘mutant vehicles’ that are so transformed by the artist the original make and model cannot be recognized. Our museum holds cars covered in cigarette butts (Stink Bug), painted Fiat convertibles and Porches as well as huge fire breathing dragons (Phoenix II) made with a combination of recycled materials like the skin from trampolines. The variety of these vehicles simply reflects the variety of people who create them.

You may not know what an art car is but if you live in the small town of Trinidad, CO (population ca. 8,000) you have become accustomed to your town doubling in size when the annual art car parade – Artocade – happens the second weekend in September. This parade is the second largest in the United States and draws art car artists from around the country. Artocade was brought to this little town by visionary artist Rodney Wood in partnership with Pat Patrick and our Tourism Board in 2013. This incredible parade has become a very successful and well-supported community event. The popularity of Artocade has lead to the forming of the most extraordinary museum in the United States – Art Cartopia Museum. The museum holds over 35 amazing art cars, is open all year round and free to visitors.

The form of an art car is by its nature accessible to many, and offers a relatively limitless scope; additionally, most parades and art car events are non-evaluative, welcoming all participants. People of all ages and all walks of life are intrigued by art cars. We like to say that, here at the museum, we have cars created by Cops, Convicts, Christians, Quilters, Kids! Here I’ll illuminate an awesome art car project completed at Art Cartopia Museum in 2019. This was an exciting collaboration between under served middle and high school students in southeastern Colorado and a well-known Houston artist – who came together for eight days to create an incredible car named Karmadillo.

In the summer of 2019 we received a donated Toyota and a grant to bring art car rockstar Rebecca Bass of Houston to town to create a car with young people. Rebecca has created over 40 art cars in her career, mostly with inner city Houston high school students. Over the course of 8 days five kids and five dedicated adults created Karmadillo, a blinged-out art car with a huge armadillo riding the roof! I had the honor of being the lead person for Art Cartopia Museum on this exciting project. Karmadillo was my second art car, and the first of many I hope to create with young people in Trinidad. Rebecca Bass cars often commemorate musicians and bands. The museum holds three such cars: ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’, ‘The Lizard King’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.

Over the course of the week-long project Ms. Bass taught us methods of attaching sculptural elements to the car so it could still be driven on the highway. We built an armadillo from coated foam and affixed it to the Toyota’s roof by welding her to a frame-work welded to the roof, created cacti from foam coated with stucco (for weather-proofing), glued thousands of pieces of costume jewelry, signs, figurines and objects to the car. There was nothing left of the former color when we were finished! We used immeasurable amounts of silicone glue, costume jewelry and found-objects to create this car being dominated by an armadillo, instead of the other way around… Transforming this plain used Toyota into a magical conveyance that can be driven long-distance to events – even as far away as Houston to their art car parade.

Working as a team, while being allowed a lot of individual freedom of expression, everyone involved enjoyed the transformation of this plain car to one that turns heads on the highway, in the parade, at events and in the museum. Karmadillo is a charming and fun vehicle that has since won awards and admirers wherever seen! Those of us privileged to help in her creation were honored to drive Karmadillo in the 2019 Artocade Parade. During the weekend of Artocade 2019 (the seventh annual) a new TV show on NBC-SN filmed their first edition of “Odd-O-Mobiles” – interviewing me with my students in front of Karmadillo. Unfortunately, COVID seems to have scuttled the show.

This summer we hope to create at least two new art cars, perhaps one covered in angels and cherubs? Or a car devoted to old-time photography methods and tools? Come see what we’re up to at Art Cartopia Museum, or join us for Artocade on September 10, 2022!

Art Cartopia Museum is open year-round Tuesday through Saturday 10am-4pm. We operate through grants and donations and love to involve families and young people in our events and projects.

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