Recent sightings of Clarke Bedford’s art cars awaiting service at Greenbelt Auto and Truck.
Meet the Creator
I’m just one of the many Greenbelters using this parking lot near the Greenbelt Co-op who’s stopped to gawk and photograph the incredible-looking cars sometimes parked there. These “art cars” are the work of Clarke Bedford, retired after 23 years as a conservator at the Hirshhorn Museum, where he worked on Modernist sculptures as well as on paintings by Mondrian, DeKooning, Miro, Eakins, Homer, and many others. He’s also created spoof-narrative books about historic figures like William Tecumseh Sherman that are illustrated with what he calls “photographic constructions.”
Clarke’s life and his distinctive artworks are thoroughly documented on his website – Vanadu Art House – the name honoring a van he transformed, with a nod to Xanadu. Here’s one of several good videos I found on that website – an interview with the very entertaining artist himself.
That cover image is exactly how Katy Gaughan and I found him when we visited recently. (After emailing to make sure he was home. Visitors can browse the exterior anytime). Katy had nudged me to investigate and write about the artist here on the blog, so when I finally connected with Clarke I invited her to go with me to his home studio in Hyattsville. It’s safe to say our minds were blown.
Clarke’s adventures in assemblage sculpture began by transforming his home, starting in 2005, and then his first cars (a Saab and Econoline) in 2012. He’s driven his works in the Baltimore Art Car Parade and this year, in the Takoma Park July 4th Parade. (Naturally we urged him to ride one of his creations in the Greenbelt Labor Day Parade, where the crowd would, I predict, go nuts.)
I found another art car parade in Minnesota, and the granddaddy of them all is the Art Car Parade in Houston, where Clarke has also participated. According to the website, it “draws around 250 art cars and other entries from 23 states, in addition to Canada and Mexico. Each vehicle is a moving work of art, designed by hundreds of passionate artists.” Can you imagine how fun that must be – and the after-party, too?
My favorite is the 1966 VW Bug seen on the left. It reminds me of the 1963 VW Bug that my family of four drove around Europe in FOR SIX WEEKS, without even a luggage rack. I love to shock people with that story.
His home environment began accidentally after the Saab “exploded” and he began to incorporate parts of it into the fencing around his property. The fence became an ongoing work of assemblage-sculpture, and soon a “Christmas tree,” made from a piece of 1930s cast iron dental equipment sprouting fan blades — draped with Christmas lights for the holidays — became his first yard decoration. “You just keep having more stuff, something doesn’t fit on the cars, and you don’t like it on the fence, so you put it on the side of the house,” Bedford says. Influenced by his conservator’s perspective, almost everything displayed outdoors is weather-resistant, and he uses very little paint. Source.
Here’s a quick video of the back of “Vanadu Gardens.”
Art Cars Serviced at Greenbelt Auto and Truck Repair
On Clarke’s website I found this list of cars in his collection, so far:
- 1946 Chevy Bus
- 1966 VW Bug
- 1984 Volvo 245
- 1988 Ford 150 Econ Van
- 1992 GMC bus
- 1995 Chevy Caprice Wagon
I asked Clarke how he happened to bring his cars to Greenbelt Auto and Truck, and was there a Greenbelt connection? He wrote:
The “Greenbelt connection” has less to do with others and more to do with the history of Greenbelt as well as its culture and also the car repair business. I really appreciate the New Deal back story, layout and architecture, and it goes without saying there are characters there, which gives it a special feeling, all of which should be obvious to even a casual observer. I used to work at the Hirshhorn Museum and there are a number of people who are connected to the Hirshhorn who live in Greenbelt.Greenbelt Auto and Truck has been accommodating to my vehicles and continues to be. The van even had its engine replaced there, which is hard for a production shop. They are “car guys,” which describes a social point of view that’s also civil and fun. Apparently the owner was in the same high school class as Dr. Jay McCarl, who I see for teeth (mine are problematic). All very small town, which includes the Co-op, movie theater, New Deal Cafe etc.