I visit an artist at his home studio

The bus you see above is one of several eye-popping pieces of vehicular art that I’ve been gawking at for years, whenever I see them in my grocery store parking lot. In fact, commenting on them is a popular pastime around here, as is posting photos of them on local Facebook groups. What are they and who made them? Does the owner live among us and we don’t even know it? We only knew they were being serviced at an adjacent repair shop.

Finally a friend nudged me to investigate and reveal my findings on my local blog, and that’s what brought me to an ungentrified neighborhood in a nearby town to visit the artist, whom I’d found online.

It’s been a lot of fun blogging locally about the artist – Clarke Bedford, who retired after 23 years as a conservator at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn MuseumClarke’s life and distinctive artworks are thoroughly documented on his wonderful website – Vanadu Art House – the name honoring the van he transformed, with a nod to Xanadu.

Hcre’s Clarke!

His 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 the granddaddy of all art car parades – the Art Car Parade in Houston. (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? Even the Google image results are fun.)

Close-up of the fence

Ready for Vanadu Gardens?

First about the fence, from his website.

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.

Step inside! Turn back and admire the entrance.

Here’s a pano view of the front yard from the house.

And here’s a quick video of the back of “Vanadu Gardens.”


Clearly this is  no “garden” for plant-lovers like us. But I’d sure love to have the space to include some fantastical pieces like these in my home garden.  I’m sure every piece has a story to tell.

What do the neighbors say? And the city?

Clarke told me the city doesn’t bother him at all, and the neighbors don’t complain.  See, no HOA, no co-op rules, and everyone gets along, right? Well, not always. The very night after my visit, Clarke posted this and other sad photos of the damage done by a drunken neighbor driving straight into his fence, damaging it and the VW on the street. 

And it’s not like he can call Long Fence to return it to its glory.  Reminds me of the damage sometimes done to plants in my hellstrip by delivery trucks and just bad drivers, but the damage was never as shocking as this.

More about the artist the cars (we’re off-topic now!)

Here’s one of several good videos I found on that website – an interview with the very entertaining artist himself.

All of Clarke’s cars are licensed, insured and driveable.  They are:

  • 1946 Chevy Bus
  • 1966 VW Bug
  • 1984 Volvo 245
  • 1988 Ford 150 Econ Van
  • 1992 GMC bus
  • 1995 Chevy Caprice Wagon
My favorite is this 1966 VW Bug, probably because it reminds me of the ’63 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.I’d love to know why Clarke chose every piece and where he found them.  And does each car have a different theme? Maybe I’ll go back and pester him for a longer tour.

At least this one I can take my time gawking at, as it’s parked in my grocery store’s parking lot.  In the background you see where the cars are serviced – without the help of a lift, the mechanics there tell me. That would be physically impossible.