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'WHEELS' IN MOTION
PUBLIC ART PROJECT FEATURING DECORATED CARS BEGINS TODAY

Until "A Favorable Birdict" was actually pieced together Thursday on the front lawn of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, Bill Wilson wasn't sure his 17-foot-tall "Art on Wheels" sculpture would fly.

He had spent many hours in his Niagara Falls studio refining the concept from "around 300 doodles," but could only guess whether the combination of old car wheels and pipes, culled from junkyards and held together with steel bolts, would stay upright.

"He didn't do a lot of figuring," said Wilson's wife, Charlene.

But with help from three volunteer plumbers using tall stepladders, "Birdict," which resembles a colorful avian Tinker Toy, rose from the ground and at last rested firmly on its spindly legs.

It was among the last of 100 art cars and wheel-theme sculptures put in place for "Art on Wheels: Artists Recycle, Reuse and Invent," the big public art project that officially kicked off today.

The works will be on view at 57 museums, galleries and historic sites throughout Buffalo Niagara during a summer season chock-full of tourist attractions and activities, and will remain on location until shortly before they are auctioned Nov. 3.

In addition, several art cars will travel area highways and byways, calling attention to the event.

The title of Wilson's work, sponsored by the law firm Phillips Lytle Hitchcock Blaine & Huber, is, of course, a pun on a legalism.

It's one of his two contributions to "Art on Wheels," which organizers hope will build on the success of "Herd About Buffalo," the display of decorated bisons that tickled the public's fancy four years ago. He also designed one of the roving cars, "Bug on Bug," a 1975 Beetle topped by a grasshopper.

Any misgivings he might have had about the crowd-pleasing potential of "Art on Wheels" have been erased, Wilson said.

"At first I didn't think this project would compare with the 'Herd,' but the more I saw it progress, the more I realized it is going to have a big impact on Western New York -- a big positive impact," he said.

And it presented a greater challenge for artists than the 1999 project, he believes. "For 'Herd,' we were given fiberglass buffaloes to paint, which limited us," he said. "Here, we made things from scratch, using our own ideas. It's more gratifying."

Though artists received a greater stipend this time around -- $4,500 versus $2,500 for "Herd" -- they participated out of love, not for money, said Wilson, who served during the last project as the Herd Doctor, repairing damaged bisons.

"What am I making here -- 50 cents an hour? A dollar an hour? You can't equate it with money. It's all self-fulfillment," he said.

Visitors can buy an "Art on Wheels" passport for $9.95 at Wegmans supermarkets and most host sites. The booklet contains information about each location and the artwork posted there. Maps also are available.

Proceeds from "Art on Wheels" will benefit Burchfield-Penney Art Center and the Materials Reuse Project, which organized the project in partnership with The Buffalo News.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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