Featured Stories

Former teacher creates an Aboriginal Art Car; see it on S.E. 26th

RITA A. LEONARD - Artist and ex-teacher Gaia Swan stands by her Aboriginal Art Car - as well as the colorful garage that she also painted. Gaia Swan, an artist and retired Portland elementary school teacher, has created a unique Aboriginal Art Car that can be seen near S.E. 26th and Tibbetts Street. The 1995 Nissan 200SX sedan was originally a champagne color, but Swan has decorated it with images that represent the life history of the car.

“I started this project eight years ago, but it’s always been a work in progress,” she says. “I love the graphic tribal motifs, and the colors that represent earth tones.”

The distinctive art style used was created by ancient Australian Aboriginal people, based on simple lines and dots that communicate spiritual traditions from their “Dreamtime”, and symbolic journeys across time and the land. The main colors are red, brown, yellow, white and black, made from a variety of colored ochers and charcoal. The simplistic images appeal to many, as a way to represent traditions and personal life journeys.

Ms. Swan points to various images on the vehicle: “This one represents my cat, Bisbee, who used to lie down on the hood here, where it’s warm. There are symbolic tree images and stylized squirrel shapes on the fenders, representing the neighborhood; and I plan to paint an image of my dog, Ralph, on the front bumper,” she remarks. A stylized snake surrounds a sun/compass image on the side, indicating the four main directions of travel.

Since Swan enjoys night driving, there’s an image of the moon – and indeed, even slug trails, ferns, raindrops, and alas, bird poop, all of which represent the realities of Pacific Northwest living.

“I visit Long Beach, Washington, frequently, and this design on the right rear quarter is a stylized version of ‘Jake the Alligator Man’ being pursued by hunters. Jake represents my Sellwood friend Chuck, on Miller Street, another artist who displays several 3-D art cars in front of his home there.”

Along the Nissan's door panels are circles and dot-&-line patterns that remind Swan of the busy classrooms and playground activities her former students engaged in. Along the back bumper are guitars (“Like good friends,” she says), a goddess icon, and a painted patch of exhaust-pipe “smoke” that wafts above the tail pipe. “The exhaust smoke, the dollar symbols that circle into the gas tank, and the stylized shopping carts, represent my daily travels, and hopefully will amuse folks waiting in traffic around me,” she comments. “These are all parts of life that I and my car experience on our journey through time.”