Art Cars parade through Steamboat

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What: Art Car Stampede When: Today and Saturday Where: On parade around Steamboat today; parked on display at Torian Plum Plaza in Ski Time Square on Saturday Cost: Free Rebecca Bass, an art and shop teacher from Waltrip High School in Houston whose students made the "Lizard King" Art Car, will teach a free workshop about how to make an Art Car at 1 p.m. Saturday by the Art Car Stampede display in Torian Plum Plaza.

Lynne Masters is on a mission to rid Steamboat Springs of its "blah cars."

"I mean, how many white Subarus are there in Steamboat anyway?" Masters wondered. "What I'd like to see is more people take ugly cars and embellish them."

As far as she's concerned, the best use for a white Subaru, which she owns, is as a canvas. Masters has plans to turn her generic automobile into a flashy "Art Car" brimming with dragonflies, butterflies and humming birds.

"Soon, you'll be able to tell my Subaru from everyone else's," Masters said.

This kind of auto transformation is nothing new. There's an art-car parade in Houston that reportedly attracts more than 250,000 spectators each year. A national museum is devoted to these audacious automobiles. And communities across the country, including Steamboat, are encouraging new Art Car endeavors for events such as the Beaux Arts Festival.

Starting today, the Art Car Stampede takes to Steamboat's streets.

Look out for the "Sashimi Tabernacle Choir," a duet-singing concoction of a car that has Billy Basses on the side panels and lobsters on the roof. Beware of the "Lizard King," a towering creation made by inner-city high school students in Rebecca Bass's combination art and shop class at Waltrip High School in Houston. Steer clear of the "Iron Maiden," a jeep adorned with metal snakes and glowing purple eyes.

"They're hysterical," stampede organizer Masters said. "When you see them, they just put a smile on your face."

Nothing has proven to be more true for Art Car owner Jean Benton. Benton owns a Volkswagen Beetle decorated with bright, psychedelic swirls that people around town often refer to as the "Austin Powers car" or the "Easter egg car."

An Art Car was the answer to "item No. 1 on the list of 10 things you have to do before you die: Have more fun than anyone else," said Benton, who had her Beetle and a motor home painted to match when she was diagnosed with cancer about five years ago.

Now that she's approaching her five-year anniversary of being cancer free, Benton said she thought she'd have to get rid of the car and close that chapter of her life -- but her doctor insists it's keeping the cancer away and she should keep the car.

"I could never have a pity party because everyone's always giving me the thumbs up," Benton said. She and her husband, Larry, spent a winter traveling across the country with the car and RV a couple of years ago. "The car just meets people -- all kinds of people," she said.

Benton's Art Car travels with its own ever-expanding photo album and autograph book.

Now the Bentons said they have decided to build their own Art Car in addition to the one they had professionally painted. They didn't divulge their design, but they said they have a friend with a junkyard who has just the right canvas for them to use. The Bentons said they have visions of touring it across the country.

At least 10 art cars are expected in town this weekend, including Benton's Beetle and last year's winner, the "Aerocar." All of the cars will be on display Saturday at Torian Plum Plaza in Ski Time Square, where street painters will be decorating the sidewalks for the Strada D'Arte event nearby, the Steamboat Wine Festival will be going on and an assortment of live entertainment, artisan vendors and children's activities will be available.

"For the Beaux Arts Festival's celebration of the senses and the creative spirit, art cars are right there," Masters said.

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