The Spirit of the Animals is in the Wheels 

By Juan Martinez AND DAVE EGGERS

A bison barrels down Detroit's Mack Avenue. An aluminum scaled pangolin picks up middle school students and delivers them to an after-school tutoring program. A shiny rhinoceros heaves its way across an Atlanta public park. The rhino carries extra weight in the form of school-aged passengers and has extra power when they help pedal.

The Spirit of the Animals is in the Wheels is part transportation solution, part public art, and all joy. Juan Martinez and Dave Eggers have collaborated to create a fleet of pedal-powered beasts which are based in Detroit and travel the United States.

To learn more or to invite the animal bikes to your city, please contact Amanda Uhle (amanda@thehawkinsproject.org).

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History of the Project

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For about ten years, Dave Eggers has been creating paintings and drawings that pair animals with humorous and provocative text. This artwork has been exhibited around the United States.

In 2014, Eggers sketched what he hoped would be combine the exterior look of a giant bison or bear, with the functionality of a three-wheeled bicycle. That is, a rideable animal-bike.

With the help of Gate 5 Fabricators in San Francisco, the first animal-bike came to be. It was assembled using a repurposed pedicab, surrounded by foam and fur, and was exhibited at the Jules Maeght Gallery in 2015. This first bear-bike is on permanent exhibit at 826 Valencia, a nonprofit literacy center for youth, in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district.

In 2016, the Outside Lands music festival commissioned Eggers to create another animal-bike, and in this case, he designed a bear-bike to be fashioned from aluminum and steel. Gizmo Art Production in San Francisco engineered this bike, which could transport up to four adults or six kids. 

Shortly thereafter, Another youth literacy center, 826michigan in Detroit, was looking for a way to transport kids from their local public school to the 826michigan center in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood. Eggers conceived of a fleet of animal bikes that would be steered by adults and would be able to transport kids as passengers, from school to the after-school literacy center.

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Eggers was introduced to Juan Martinez, a gifted metal sculptor in Detroit. Martinez began to create a small fleet for 826michigan's use. Juan’s artistry brought a deft note of realism to the project, as he created a bison, a pangolin and a rhinoceros. The pangolin not only has hundreds of carefully-cut scales but it also has a distinct attitude and presence that you can see whether you encounter it in a museum gallery or clanking down a Detroit boulevard. Martinez believes artworks like these should live and work in the community. They should be seen at special events and in galleries but also at random moments in places they might not quite belong.

The bear, pangolin, bison, and rhinoceros are all currently on tour and visit art spaces, schools and community venues. The Spirit of the Animals is in the Wheels has been exhibited at The Biennial of the Americas, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), The Henry Ford,  Atlanta Contemporary Art Museum, Georgia Tech, Toledo ArtWalk, and additionally makes numerous forays into neighborhoods in Detroit and elsewhere.

These days, Martinez is the primary artist on the project. He hires local Detroiters to assist in his shop, where he seems to always have a new animal underway. Eggers consults a bit as the animals take shape, but otherwise tries to get out of the way of the visionary Martinez.