Vintage Trailer Transformed into Art Museum

Three artists based in Methow Valley, Washington, that span three generations are working together to revitalize their once-thriving logging community.

Reclaimed vintage Spartan travel trailer a new home for local Methow Valley artists. (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

Reclaimed vintage Spartan travel trailer a new home for local Methow Valley artists. (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

One of their projects involves restoring a 1951 Spartan Imperial Mansion travel trailer to display unique and experimental work from local, regional, and national artists.

The project started, as many ideas do, with some people sitting around talking and wondering if there might be a way to find some space with low or no overhead “an empty room somewhere” to display local artists’ work, free and open to the public on an “honor system” basis, according to a news release.

The artists—Matt Armbrust, Jeff Winslow, and Steve Ward—recalled hearing about an Airstream travel trailer that had been converted to a mobile art display.

Ward, an admitted Craigslist prowler, knew where to find it. Online browsing led him to Malaga, near Wenatchee where a 36-foot 1951 Spartan Imperial Mansion travel trailer was available. A top-of-the-line Spartan like this once cost about $6,000 new. This deteriorated hulk was going for $800.

Ward and Armbrust drove down to take a look. On first inspection, it didn’t look like much of a bargain.

Artists Jeff Winslow, left, Steve Ward and Matt Armbrust in the gutted interior of the Spartan travel trailer they are turning into a mobile art gallery. (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

Artists Jeff Winslow, left, Steve Ward and Matt Armbrust in the gutted interior of the Spartan travel trailer they are turning into a mobile art gallery. (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

“It was pretty grim,” Armbrust recalls.

“I looked at it and said, ‘no way.’ Then we got obsessed with it.”

Spartan Aircraft All-Aluminum Trailercoaches, which resemble Airstream trailers because of their smooth, shiny exterior, were manufactured from 1946 to 1960 by Spartan Aircraft Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma. At that time, the company was owned by legendary industrialist J. Paul Getty. Spartans were high-end travel trailers noted for their quality.

That was last summer. The Spartan is now on display—far from finished, but looking much better.

Deciding to buy it and getting it to the Methow Valley were separate challenges. That was resolved when valley resident Steve Morse agreed to tow the trailer back to the Methow, rolling on temporary tires Ward removed from a truck he owns.

So far, they have gutted the interior, stripped the paint, replaced the sub-flooring, and purchased an actual floor. They also reclaimed kiln slats that were once used for drying lumber and have invested a good deal of their own funding thus far.

Their home base is on the TwispWorks campus, a former U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station commissioned during the Great Depression and built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Located in downtown Twisp, TwispWorks is a community-driven project with the entire site comprising 17-buildings over 6.5-acres. Its board of directors has systematically restored and revitalized this historic area into spaces for artist studios, nonprofit organizations, and local businesses.

“We view this 36-foot classic camper as both an inspiring and challenging space for art installations,” they said in a news release.

“We want the Spartan to be a platform for experimental art, and a space for artists to take chances. From the viewer’s perspective, we want to engender excitement about art and engage them on a new level. ”

Despite numerous skilled artists in their region, show space for experimental/edgy art is limited and there are few ways for local artists to take their work on the road.

“We feel this is a crucial niche for engaging people in art and for encouraging artists to create works outside of a traditional gallery setting. We want to fill this gap through the creation of the Spartan Art Project,” they added.

Spartan Art Project (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

Spartan Art Project (Photo credit: Don Nelson)

In order to bring the Spartan up to form, the artists need to wire the interior, replace the windows, patch aluminum, install walls, put in a solar lighting system, and make a few upgrades that will make the Spartan officially roadworthy.

“We are working hard to use reclaimed, local products and accepting the donated time of the Methow Valley’s very skilled and generous community to finish the Spartan Art Project by spring 2013,” they added.

Worth Pondering…

Hold fast to your dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

—Langston Hughes

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