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Jan Elftmann

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My Minnesota: Jan Elftmann, car artist, opens up about her Cork Truck

  • July 26, 2014 - 5:28 PM

If you saw some unusual vehicles around town Saturday, festooned in gewgaws and brightly adorned, it was an Art Car Parade.

You may have thought: How do you take that through the carwash? You don’t, especially if the truck is covered entirely with wine-bottle corks. You may ask: Shy would anyone do that?

So, why? “The corks were free material for a poor artist! I worked as a waitress through college, that’s where I collected the wine corks. I was trying to make sculptures, like a self-portrait, so I kept saving them, but ehhh, that didn’t work out. But I kept saving them, and people collected them for me and gave me corks and now I have 97 10-gallon bins of corks.”

Ninety-eight, and people might consider you a cork-hoarder. Anyway, where did the idea come from to glue them to a truck?

“A friend in Houston said, ‘Come down and see the Art Car parade!’ So I went and saw all these decorated cars, and wanted to do one. My husband said, ‘What about those bags of cork in the attic?’  ” Perhaps with a desperate, hopeful smile.

She came back to Minneapolis and wanted to start a local Art Car movement, only to discover that others had been decorating their cars for some time. The Cork Truck gets comments, though, because, well, it’s covered with corks.

Some of the remarks are from the usual know-it-alls. “Guys would say, ‘Oh, you do know that when it snows, the ice will get in there and expand and push the corks out. It’s going to decompose with the salt,’ they’d say. Well, they found cork in the bottle from Titanic, and it was in the ocean with all that salt. I’ve learned so much about cork! It has memory — if you compress it, it’ll expand back to its original shape. It’s fireproof. It doesn’t decompose.”

Indeed, why aren’t all cars covered in cork? Absorbs blows, resists flame. Has the Cork Truck ever had an accident? “A couple collisions. The car crunched, but nothing happened to the cork.”

The famed Cork Truck isn’t tooling around much these days. “He needs a new engine. He can just putter around a short distance. My other art car, the timing belt went out, but I have a new one to work on. I’m going to weld some wings on it, like a ’57 Chevy.”

You may see it on the next Art Car parade, daily at the State Fair, or on White Bear Lake in the depths of winter. Literally, on the lake.

“It’s the only Art Car parade in the world of its kind,” she notes, “Because no one else trusts to drive on the ice.”

But if they did break through the ice, well, you know which one would bob back up.

James Lileks

© 2014 Star Tribune