Artists: Various artists have painted 43 unique buses
Location: The streets of Crested Butte and beyond
Public art is nothing new to the Town of Crested Butte. Ever since Joanie Barbier painted the ‘Cow Bus’ in 1983, works of art have been rolling through the streets, catching the eye of all passersby. Themes have ranged from flora (aspens, wildflowers, mushrooms) to fauna (fish and other ocean life, dogs, skunks, dragons, more cows, eagles, local wildlife) to the cosmic (zodiac, ‘One Love’, Martian, ‘Cosmic Party’). In 2016, artist Heather Bischoff set up a contest in which pet owners submitted a photo of their pet along with a donation to the Paradise Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). The chosen cat and dog were immortalized on the ‘Furry Friends Bus’, as well as all the donors’ pets’ paw prints. Les Choy was inspired to bring his love of the desert back to the mountains and covered a bus with Anasazi handprints and other pictographs. Fairy tale figures, bubbles, trains…no subject seems to be off limits, provided the artists cover their enormous and unusual canvasses with something that makes people smile as they clamber aboard for the free ride up or down the mountain or watch the one-of-a-kind art roll by as they soak up the sun on one of Crested Butte’s many benches.
During the height of the summer or winter, there are roughly six to ten buses running up, down, and all around the vicinity. The working fleet includes an additional five to ten in reserve. That means a lot of the colorful vehicles have been retired, so one may ask, “where do the buses go after they’ve rolled their last loop?” For many, an ad is put in the legal section of the newspaper and a closed bid process determines the lucky new owner. Those have gone on to various uses. The ‘Fish Bus’ came full circle to serve as a studio for its original artist Kate Seeley. The ‘Aspen Bus’, painted in 1983 by Lisa Ridgley, hit the road as a tour bus for the then-up-and-coming band The String Cheese Incident. Others have been donated to the Fire Department or Emergency Medical Services to use as test vehicles. Though crashing and burning may seem an unseemly end for such works of art, such an end continues their tradition of benefiting the common good!
A (mostly complete) photo gallery of the buses, as well as the artists who conceived and painted them, can be found at www.mtnexp.org/painted-bus-gallery.