March 29, 2011
The following article was published in the Lynchburg News & Advance March 29, 2011. It is reprinted with permission.
By Liz Barry
David Schwartz — a philosophy professor at Randolph — completed his masterpiece in 2005 and has driven it to work every day since.
“I’m surprised that everything’s stayed together pretty well,” Schwartz said.
It took Schwartz about a year to transform his 1984 graphite gray Volvo into the ant-mobile.
Vines and leaves creep up the sides of the car, while an anthill towers on the roof. But the main attraction is the ants, dozens of them, crawling all over the car.
This spring, Schwartz will drive the car about 1,300 miles to the Houston Art Car Parade in Texas. It marks Schwartz’s second appearance in the parade and the car’s longest trip in years. (The odometer stopped working at 197,000, but Schwartz estimates he’s driven it more than 300,000 miles.)
The Houston Art Car Parade, founded in 1988, bills itself as the largest gathering of “art cars” in the world. (This year’s parade will be on May 22.) Schwartz first discovered the subculture in the early 1990s, when he stumbled upon the parade while living in the Houston area.
Within a decade of that first exposure, Schwartz decided to make his own art car. It took several years of brainstorming, however, before Schwartz settled on a concept.
“I was fascinated by abandoned vehicles being taken over by nature,” Schwartz said of his early inspiration.
That idea, plus the serendipity of finding giant metal ants at the hardware store, laid the foundation for his ant-mobile.
Over the past six years, Schwartz has allowed the car to evolve with the addition of birds’ nests and other small objects. Nature, too, has done a number on the vehicle.
“This stick fell out of a tree and landed almost exactly in that spot,” Schwartz said, pointing to a stick mingled between a pair of ants marching up the hood. “It’s been there almost two years now.”
Schwartz says his car explores the relationship between man-made objects and the forces of nature. It also challenges the idea of the car as a status symbol, or a shiny object that must stay pristine.
“I tell people, it’s very liberating the first time you drill a hole in a car,” he said.
Schwartz’s number one priority is to keep the car drivable and legal. Each year, his ant car passes the state-mandated safety inspection.
Washing the outside of the ant-mobile is one of Schwartz’s biggest challenges. With hundreds of objects decorating the exterior, Schwartz’s car is too delicate for the drive-through car wash.
For the Houston parade, Schwartz plans on covering the dirt with a new coat of paint.
Meanwhile, the ant car remains a conversation piece just about anywhere Schwartz goes.
“It makes people smile,” Schwartz said. “The fact that it gives people a smile makes me happy.”