Bead-decked

American Indian museum's colorfully bedecked Volkswagen

By Doug Rule
Published on March 22, 2012, 2:13am | Comments

Some people spruce up used cars with a simple paint job. But paint has nothing on bright glass beads.

''People are really, really intrigued by it,'' says Kerry Boyd. ''The beading is so small, a lot of people assume it's paint." Until they get a closer look, that is.

Vochol Beetle

Vochol Beetle

Boyd, the museum's director of exhibitions, is referring to the 1990 Volkswagen Beetle now on display in the atrium at the National Museum of the American Indian. Eight artists representing the Huíchol Indians from western central Mexico bedecked the iconic car in 2 million colorful glass beads – not to mention 35 pounds of fabric and paint for its interior – to create this ''beaded bug,'' or ''Vochol,'' a derivation of the Huíchol slang term for the Beetle. The artists put in more than 9,000 hours on the installation, which originated with Mexico's Museum of Folk Art.

The Vochol has temporarily replaced a dark wood sculpture that had been up at the museum since it opened in 2004. ''The Vochol is so different,'' says Boyd. ''The beadwork is just so graphic and bright and just visually stunning.'' Various animals and symbols are visible through the beadwork, from deer to a two-headed eagle to a scorpion to corn.

The Smithsonian museum is just one of several stops around the world for the car, which will eventually be auctioned off. Money from the international sale will benefit the Mexican folk art museum and its efforts to support and promote indigenous artists. ''I think we should buy it for our museum,'' says Boyd. ''That's just my opinion.''

Early buzz from the public has been positive. ''It was just phenomenal, the crowds that gathered around it,'' says Boyd, referring to an unveiling earlier this week. ''It just has a kind of 'wow' factor.''

The Vochol is on display through May 6 in the Potomac Atrium of the National Museum of the American Indian, Independence Avenue at 4th Street SW. Call 202-633-1000 or visit nmai.si.edu.