Arts and Culture

Art Car Creator Jamie Vaida Heads for the Telluride Fire Festival

When metal sculptor Jamie Vaida packed up and moved his Grand Junction studio to Oakland, California, a few years ago, he quickly found an audience for the architectural details he specializes in -- like some of the coolest spiral staircase handrails and hottest fireplace screens you've ever seen -- and also found patrons for some of his more fiery ideas.

"Straightaway, I got involved in the Burning Man scene after I moved to California, and started getting commissions for art cars," says Vaida, whose art car collaboration with Grand Junction artist Alvin Sessions will be featured in this week's Telluride Fire Festival.

See also: Telluride Fire Festival

"At Burning Man you can only have a vehicle if it's an art car," he explains. "It's really nice to be able to have a vehicle to zip around in while you're there, and there are a lot more billionaires at Burning Man these days paying artists to build them, so the art car scene has really blown up fast."

Vaida and Sessions' art car for the Telluride Fire Festival is dubbed the "Shack to Hell You Ride." It was built on the platform of a deconstructed van, and looks more like an old miner's shack than a billionaire's ride. The corrugated metal roof is plumbed with propane, and will be very much ablaze when Vaida drives it down Telluride's Main Street on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

"Shack to Hell You Ride" pays homage to Telluride's legendary but fast-disappearing ski shacks -- beloved old buildings in town inhabited on the cheap by ski bums -- and to one in particular: "The Hospital," on Spruce Street, burned down in 2012, and the artists recovered wood and metal from it to help build their art car.

"We sourced a lot of reclaimed materials from Telluride for this project, including a working potbelly stove that is now inside the car, partly because we needed it to be functional and to be heated and partly because we were inspired by how much the locals in Telluride love and mythologize these beat up old shacks," Vaida says.

The car will do double duty this year: Vaida also plans to bring it to Burning Man in the Fall, but says it's purpose-build for the challenges of winter in Telluride.

"This is the first fire arts festival I've heard of that takes place in the winter -- the birth place of fire art is really in California, around the Bay Area, and at Burning Man, which is out in the desert -- so we'll have to put the propane tanks in hot water baths to make sure they don't freeze and we've had to make other considerations," Vaida says. "Burning Man is a big experience, and you have to see it, but it's great to have this new venue and it's a great opportunity for people who have never seen art like this. I think people in Telluride this weekend are going to see some things they've never imagined."

In addition to the art car parade, Vaida will lead a... ahem... fireside chat tomorrow at the Hotel Telluride, from 4 to 6 p.m., and will have other sculptures on display at the festival and at the Telluride Fire Festival's gala event on Saturday at The Mine. For gala tickets, full festival schedule, and more information, visit