The Snail Art Car

The Golden Mean

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Oakland’s New Mayor Schaaf Rides in Our Snail Car
Photo by D. Ross Cameron/Bay Area News Group

The Golden Mean Snail Car is a giant hot rod art car built by a group of artists in West Oakland’s Kraftworks building in 2008. Conceived of in a dream by artist Kyrsten Mate, this extraordinary vehicle was fabricated by Kyrsten, her husband Jon Sarriugarte, and the artist members of Empire of Dirt. This surprising vehicle takes its name from the golden ratio, a mathematical proportion that’s said to produce aesthetically pleasing art and architecture. Built on a 1966 VW bug chassis, the Golden Mean Snail Car features seating for six, rein-triggered fire shooting eye stalks, and a signature antiqued patina finish.

The shop that birthed the Golden Mean Snail Car also houses Sarriugarte’s custom blacksmithing business Form & Reform, where he designs and hand forges lighting, furniture, and accessories using a mix of centuries-old blacksmithing techniques along with modern processes. His lights can be seen in Oakland establishments including Camino, Hutch, and Tribune Tavern. Custom light fixtures and ready-made furniture for residential and commercial spaces can be purchased through Sarriugarte’s commercially produced lights, including the Camino, San Sebastian, and Circa 1920 Spanish Torch lines are available through Restoration Hardware.

 Photo by: Tatoo John


Story and photos by Emily Lang

OAKLAND, California — In a project that would make Franz Kafka grin, a 40-year-old bug has metamorphosed into a snail. The resulting creation, an art car called The Golden Mean, is a golden gastropod that glows in the dark and shoots rings of fire from its feelers. It also seats six comfortably.

Blacksmith Jon Sarriugarte, who fabricates custom home furnishings, worked with his wife, Kyrsten Mate, to transform a 1966 VW Bug into the rolling piece of art. The Golden Mean is making its debut at the Burning Man art festival this year.

Mate says she literally dreamed up the concept.

“I woke up and said, ‘We have to build this giant snail,’” she said. “It totally wasn’t planned. This whole project has been weird coincidences and math.”

The visually stunning vehicle takes its name from the golden ratio, a mathematical proportion that’s said to produce aesthetically pleasing art and architecture. The spiral in the snail’s shell is shockingly close to the ratio. Other inspirations for the project include the giant pink snail from Doctor Dolittle, giant mechanical elephant puppets by Royal de Luxe and Jules Verne’s imaginative creations.

Here’s a peek at last-minute preparations that took place in Sarriugarte’s Form & Reform shop before Golden Mean headed off for its date with the playa.

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This is our new project in process. We are building a new “mutant vehicle” art car to launch at Burning Man 2008. What if another planet/universe/timeline decided that insects were the ideal inspiration for vehicles (instead of “cougars” and “mustangs”). And what if some vehicle builder took as their inspiration a snail. Now see this through our oilpunk metalworking lens.

The snail will be roughly 12 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 8 feet high. The body and head will be built out of scrap galvanized metal cut into scales and the shell will be shaped from perforated steel. The structure of the shell and its growth rings will have Jon’s trademark rivet detail. The shell will offer a great opportunity for a beautiful patina job. The snail will be driven from a “buckboard” between the neck and the shell a bench seat set back into the shell. To do this, we are extending the power and steering mechanisms up and back. This is all built on a Volkswagon Beetle frame that is completely stripped.

We are working out the light scheme; we would like something to outline the shape of the snail and the means for the shell to glow from within. We are also working out the details of the details; amber antique headlights, small brass touches on handles, a tiny “hobbit” door to enter the shell. Being Jon, the snail will have a bit of fire on it; 2 small fire poofers out of its antennae.

It is quite an exciting project!

I’m looking for projects! Art cars, fire art, custom furniture, we can build it all! Contact me for a quote.  fax to 510 444 8946 ring to 510 444 7007

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