It started with sticking political buttons on the ceiling of her Honda Civic. The theme for Jan Elftmann’s ArtCar grew from there. “Everything is a circle or it’s on a circle. I started big and now I’m working smaller, fitting things in between,” she said of the Holey Circle ArtCar, a work in process for the last five years. Her goal is to have the surface totally encrusted, like a mosaic. “But, I don’t think I’ll ever finish.”
The Holey Circle car is Elftmann’s fourth ArtCar. Her first, the Cork Truck, was covered with over 10,000 wine bottle corks. When the Cork Truck died, she created the Velcro ArtCar. “We would attach things to it temporarily. It was amazing how easily things would stay on,” she said of the 3M product. Following the death of the Velcro car came the Ashtray ArtCar, “to celebrate my quitting smoking.” When that car would run no more, “I thought I needed a car that’s not going to die, that’s why I got a Honda Civic. The mechanic says these cars go forever. I’ve got 177,000 miles on it. I think it’s only halfway there.”
Elftmann’s approach to art is all about reusing things. She loves a treasure hunt. She searches for the objects at second-hand stores and garage sales. She collects items and organizes them by color and size and then makes very specific choices of what she glues on her car. “It’s really more about being anti-materialistic,” she said of her collected items. “Now it’s got a new purpose-it’s decorating my car. There’s nothing that’s too precious. And if I lose something I have a whole trunk full of more material that I can just glue back on. I try not to be too attached to anything.”
Creativity has always been a part of Elftmann’s chemistry. She knew she wanted to be an artist when she was in high school. She went to Minneapolis College of Art and Design and has a bachelor of fine arts degree. She is on the board of COMPAS, the Minnesota State Arts Board and is an artist in residence in the schools.
In addition to art, Elftmann has a love of science. She teaches science at the Science Museum of Minnesota and currently is an assistant to teachers in engineering classes at the Museum Magnet School in St. Paul. “It’s a really fun job because it’s all about problem solving and science and math. It’s hands-on and creative,” Elftmann said.
In 1995, she founded and organized the first ArtCar parade in Minnesota and has been coordinating that event every year since. “We have our own organization-ArtCars of Minnesota. Our parade goes around Lake Harriet. We line up by the rose garden and drive around the whole lake.” The parade happens on the last day of the Minneapolis Aquatennial. Last year there were 55 cars, a few art bikes and the motorized couchmobile.
“It’s lots of fun,” Elftmann said of the creative modes of transportation. “We have a strong community that anybody can belong to as long as they have an ArtCar or art bike.” They have gatherings all year and many participate in other parades, such as the State Fair Parade, Grand Old Day Parade, and sometimes, the St. Paul Winter Carnival Parade. The organization is part of a nationwide network of creative ArtCar folks.
“People can be creative with [ArtCars], but you don’t have to be ‘a real artist.’ It’s a wide mix of people who have ArtCars. It’s kind of fun that way,” Elftmann said.
Elftmann thinks of creativity in all aspects of life, from what you’re wearing to what you’re eating to what you’re driving. “From making art to how you live your life, it’s all about creativity,” she said. “I think in the schools they should stop saying art classes and call them creativity classes. I think people should bring creativity into every aspect of their lives. I think they would be more satisfied.”