Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Some artists work with paint, others with clay. Chad Sorg’s challenge was to make art with cars, buses and trucks.
That task was triggered when the Reno artist was driving through Goldfield several years ago and spied a vehicle sticking out of the ground. He explored further and found its creator: Mark Rippie, a longtime resident of this former gold boomtown. Rippie explained that he wanted to create an “artists’ playground” with dozens of old junkers stacked or embedded in the ground serving as canvases.
Sorg was intrigued, and moved here in 2011 to live in a trailer on the land and create art.
The result of their collaboration: More than 40 rusted, aging vehicles spread over a half a mile, some planted, some stacked, all in juxtaposition to the barren desert. Sorg painted most of the vehicles, and other artists accepted invitations to add their own touches to the project.
There’s a portrait of politician Ron Paul on a blue hatchback, its hood buried in the ground. Huge ants and a skull cover an upright white sedan. A rust-colored station wagon, it nose angled into the ground as if it came flying off a cliff and plowed into the dirt, features one word on its driver’s door: whoopsy.
Sorg named the display, which is a few hundred yards east of U.S. 95 on the south end of Goldfield, the International Car Forest of the Last Church. The name is a combination of the idea of a national forest that people could visit and a reference to Rippie’s website called the Last Church, which espouses a theology that eschews organized religion.
Visitors who want to know why it’s there won’t find an explanation. There’s no sign listing the artists or describing the work. And there are no signs providing directions from the highway, but a burned-out bus stands like a beacon on a ridge above the rest of the vehicles. The source of the old junkers is unclear but, in the Nevada desert, such vehicles aren’t exactly hard to find.
There is no confusing this display with the famed “Cadillac Ranch,” a display of a dozen Cadillacs standing upright in a field outside Amarillo, Tex., or “Carhenge” in Nebraska, a copy of England’s famed landmark made out of a few dozen old vehicles.
And outdoor art scenes are not unique in Nevada, either. Land sculptor Michael Heizer has moved tons of earth in art projects near Overton and in Lincoln County, and the Goldwell Open Air Museum in Rhyolite features statues and outdoor installations.
Rippie envisioned his car forest as a free attraction, something to draw people off the road. He wanted to top the number of vehicles at Carhenge and get in the Guinness World Records. Although it’s unclear if such a record exists, Sorg believes the car forest is the largest of its type.
What do the locals have to say about the display? In the land of live-and-let-live, they shrug.
Sorg describes the work as a cross between land art — large work done with the earth — and outsider art, a term used to describe nontraditional work often by self-taught artists. In this case, Sorg is the artist, Rippie is the outsider. Sorg is a trained artist who has owned an art gallery. Rippie has a checkered past, with a history of scrapes with law enforcement and other residents in Goldfield
But Rippie had a vision, a backhoe and land, so Sorg went to work.
“I saw what he saw,” Sorg said.
After moving to Goldfield, Sorg became the president of the chamber of commerce and a tireless promoter of the historic mining town, population 259, and the car forest.
Still, it hasn’t become a major attraction, and its future is up in the air.
And Sorg, who said he wanted to live out his life on the property, and Rippie are no longer collaborating.
Their relationship had begun to sour and ended after they staged an “End of the World Party,” which featured a bus burning. Afterward, and for no stated reason, Sorg said Rippie kicked him off the property. Sorg returned to Reno.
And Rippie, 67, is no longer on the scene either. He was convicted last year on federal gun charges and in November sentenced to two years in prison.
Sorg, who maintains a Facebook page dedicated to the car forest, hopes someone will buy it and preserve it.
“It was a great thing to bring to the world,” Sorg says. “I'd say roadside attractions like this remind us that there are still mysteries in the world.”