Original or well-restored vintage vehicles make most people look twice. An art car almost assuredly makes them look thrice and then again.
An art car belongs to an unusual genre of vehicles — any vehicle can be used as the base. It is the addition of the artist’s personal theme that makes the car stand out.
Rex Rosenberg of Great Bend was in Peabody for the first Sunday Cruise of 2016. He spent most of the weekend relaxing at Prescott House Bed and Breakfast and touring Peabody and the area in his art car, a 1995 Subaru sedan with a vanity tag that says, “Chewbaru.”
The Barton County art car is a testimony to teeth and the dentists, dental products, and merchandise used to care for them. The car’s official name is “Chewbaru — The Mobile Masticator,” created by a friend to replace “Gumby,” a handle coined by Rosenberg’s daughter immediately after she informed her father she thought the whole concept was, “Gross!”
Rosenberg had been following art cars online since 1997, but it was not until his sister’s Subaru was totaled by hail in 2000 that he began to think seriously of creating his own art car.
“The motor in the car was sound and the body severely damaged by hail, but I knew no one would ever see it anyway if I did a decent job with the art,” he said. “I bought it and then spent quite a while thinking about a theme.”
He attended an art car parade in Houston and was taken by a popular parade entry covered with hands and called, logically enough, “Handy.” Eventually, he hit upon the idea of teeth and dentures and began trying to find cast-off dentures.
“I tried eBay first,” he said. “And yes, there are dentures for sale on eBay. However, it was slow going at first and some brought more than I was willing to pay. Eventually I made friends with some sellers who were dental students and able to get me dentures, casts, dental tools, and even individual teeth.”
Rosenburg finally got lucky on an eBay auction and was the successful bidder on 75 pounds of old dentures.
“It took some serious bleach time to get them ready to apply to the car surface,” he said. “And after I had it cleaned up, I found that 75 pounds of dentures don’t go very far on the surface of a vehicle.”
He began to expand the art additions to include empty toothpaste tubes and boxes, toothbrushes, dental tools, impressions and molds, and orthodontists’ tools. Pages from old dental school textbooks form the decorative basis for door surfaces and the front and back quarter panels.
At a later stage, he purchased a mannequin and removed the head and lower torso, placed the shoulder and arm unit on top of the Subaru with dental tools in its hands and a large set of teaching dentures on his neck. The head was decorated with teeth and other dental oddities and also affixed to the car top.
Rosenberg said that going down the highway he has lost a piece or two of decorative attachments, but generally, they stay glued in place.
“I read up on adhesives and talked to people who use them,” he said. “And there was a little trial and error. I found that a clear urethane floor covering was best for attaching the dental book pictures and then sealing them under several layers to protect them as well. Clear silicone caulking is what I use to attach toothpaste tubes, dental tools and models, and a product called Goop Marine Glue coats and seals the old plaster impressions and adheres just about anything to the car body.”
A small set of antlers and two small spheres resembling eyes are placed a bit off center on the hood. Rosenberg’s website information includes a comment about hitting a deer in 2006 in Arizona. One can only assume the deer earned its own trophy spot on Chewbaru’s hood.
The car is now covered in 200 pounds of dental-related materials. Rosenberg has driven Chewbaru to 38 states that include many art car shows and parades. The car placed third in an art car parade in Houston.
“I’ve had it from Seattle to Baltimore, to Houston, Palm Springs, and all over the mid-west,” he said. “We make friends wherever we go.”
Friends and Chewbaru visitors at art car shows have autographed the seats and nearly every inch of interior space. A couple of mannequin heads are affixed to the back seat to resemble passengers.
An art car Internet site claims that an art car is one that “has had its appearance modified as an act of personal artistic expression.”
“For me, I just had an idea that sounded like fun,” Rosenberg notes on his own website. “I see no hidden, deeper significance to it.”
Rosenberg is a friendly guy, affable and easy to talk to — with all the Chewbaru facts right on the tip of his tongue. However, he does not seem to be too wrapped up in the artistic endeavor. There is a bumper sticker in the back window given to him by a friend that might just say it all —“You have to be real secure to be seen in a car like this.”