My mom and I were trespassing – a misdemeanor in Georgia. We wanted to get a closer look at the colorful buses lining the edge of highway 365 in Alto, Georgia. The School Bus Graveyard is a colorful blip between Helen and Jaemor Farms. With its decrepit multipassenger vehicles in a row atop a steep hill it sparkles like a crown.
A coral snake winds along the length of one of the buses. Underneath it are the words, “Snakes under every bus.” Above it a chain of armadillos march on in the opposite direction. Another depicts a hungry Pac-Man close to chomping down on cherries as it is chased by three ghosts.
The painted buses on 365 gives a hectic stream of travelers a reason to stop in the middle of nowhere. The project is the result of a partnership between the owners of Alonzo Auto Parts & Wrecker Service, who stationed the previously undecorated buses on the edge of their property line, and the artists behind Crispy Printz, known as Arm and Nack.
For Nack, the buses, and public art in general, make one simple point: “Art can exist anywhere.” From sturdy white gallery walls to creaky old buses. His bus is covered grill to taillight in thick black lines in the shape of pink gem stones and big blue liquid splashes over yellow jagged peaks. In the center is a smiling white cartoon face with four square teeth and two large bold eyes looking back eagerly at curious viewers.
“[The] School Bus Graveyard, in particular, is important because there is nothing to see, and certainly no public art to see, within hundreds of miles,” says Nack.
It is something like an art oasis that at first seems to be a mirage. In the art desert along 365, the School Bus Graveyard shimmers. To see them up close, visitors need only pull off the road and hike up a paved drainage ditch. Behind the buses is a fence meant to keep visitors from entering private property.
“It was a beautiful place, even before we started painting there,” says Nack. “The buses and old cars intertwined with the trees set up on a grassy hill just makes for a great painting area.” Arm and Nack wanted to go big and bold and the decrepit yellow buses made the perfect canvas.
They asked the owners of the property for permission and they agreed. It was easy. “The Wades are just real good people,” says Nack.
Covered by rain heavy clouds, my mom and I trekked between school buses, weeds, rusted cars and signs reading, “Get out.”
We were discovered and fortunately forgiven for trespassing. Mr. Wade, after we attempted to convince him we genuinely misinterpreted signs reading “Private Property” and “No Trespassing,” reprimanded us and then gave us a guided tour.
The rules for the public art display are simple: don’t climb and stay on your side. Wade told us that there may be one in five hundred visitors that ruin it for everyone by damaging their property while climbing the buses, potentially injuring themselves, or busting windshields. He told us about the automated drones they’ve set up to fly over the buses when activated by motion detectors, and hidden video cameras meant to catch those who dare cross the property line and destroy valuable parts. “These rules are to keep people safe and to protect the property owners who are kind enough to let us paint here,” says Nack.
Wade took us to a bus stylistically different from the rest. It features sun bleached doves, elephants, porthole windows and mushrooms. On the inside are sea horses and swirls, and on the ceiling a bright blue sun. The bus was commissioned for the 2012 film Wanderlust, starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd.
Wade described the work it took to get the bus painted and moved. One whole side of the bus was cut out to act as a stage it couldn’t be driven to set. It was only used in one scene. Now it sits empty, collecting ivy and weeds. It will continue to decay in the metal graveyard where busted headlights act as headstones.
Visitors will never visit the same School Bus Graveyard twice. Artists are invited by Arm and Nack or request to repaint the buses and time itself chisels away the structures. “Paint fades, flakes away, gets painted over. You have to always be on the lookout before it changes,” says Nack.
Wade walked us around the Wanderlust bus pointing out hidden images and laughing. He circled the bus and described the spirit of the ’60s – it was all about the trip, the journey, the adventure. He flipped out the stop sign on the side of the bus, which was been modified from red and white command to a green and white motto for the Wanderlust adventurers: Go Forth. Mr. Wade smiled and we made our way home.
Plans are under way to sell merchandise and artifacts from the School Bus Graveyard online to help support the project and provide guided tours. Find out more at crispyprintz.com.
Shelby Evans is a writer and artist from Fitzgerald, GA. She is an advocate for rural spaces and art everywhere. Shelby obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Rural Studies Writing and Communication from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. She is currently Artist in Residence at Plough Gallery. Find her online @acquiringshelby on Twitter and Instagram.