The Cartist

| December 22, 2011

Toby Galinkin in Her Home, January 2012

Toby Galinkin is famous around Chapel Hill for her art cars. What started out as a simple coffee cup glued to the roof of her ’75 Slant-6 Valiant, became quite the local phenomenon.

Toby Galinkin is famous around Chapel Hill for her art cars. What started out as a simple coffee cup glued to the roof of her ’75 Slant-6 Valiant, became quite the local phenomenon. For over twenty years, Toby’s mobile art turned heads, dropped jaws and brought smiles to many faces. If you haven’t seen one of her art cars around town lately, it’s because she has been retired from the world of art cars since 2009. Nevertheless, if you ever saw one of amazing Toby’s creations, the memory will stick with you for a lifetime.


Growing up in Toms River, New Jersey in the 1950’s, Toby surprisingly never played with baby dolls or toy animals — things that would eventually grace her future art cars. She was always a very bright student and after high school, she attended Franklin Pierce College, a small private college in New Hampshire, for two years. She then transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill in 1976. Coming down south was definitely a huge transition for this Jersey Girl. “I left a very small college, so coming here was like coming from the country to the city. It was a culture shock. I remember my first night here, I had an orientation meeting for transfers and went out to dinner with them. We went to a pizza place. This was my very first day in the South and everybody was eating their pizza with a knife and fork! I couldn’t believe it! I knew right then and there, I was in a different place. I grew up next to a pizza parlor – my backyard was a pizza parlor, and I had never seen anyone eat pizza with a knife and fork before. It was really funny.”

The other big difference was the high academic standard of UNC. Toby was on the Dean’s Honor List every semester at Franklin Pierce, but at UNC she really struggled hard to get good grades, while working part-time to pay for out-of-state tuition. “I worked at the Leather and Wood Shop, right beneath David Honigmann’s Chapel Hill Leather Shop.” (David also made her a pair of sandals, and later on, worked on one of her Valiant art cars.) It was really difficult and disheartening for her, having to study and work so much. But her efforts paid off and she graduated from Carolina, class of 1978 with a 3.8 GPA in English.

Like many UNC students, after graduating, Toby adopted Chapel Hill as her home. “I was a student that stuck around. It was either stay here or go back to New Jersey, so that was an easy decision. I’ve lived here ever since. I love Chapel Hill!”

Toby & Her Art Car on the Cover of the Chapel Hill Newspaper


Eight years later, in 1986, Toby glued a coffee cup to the top of her car, as a tribute to a family friend who once left his coffee cup on his car all day. Just for fun, she glued more and more things to her car — plastic animals, finger puppets, plastic fruit and baby dolls, to name just a few. After experimenting with different adhesives, including super glue and rubber cement, Toby found that Goop worked the best. “When it dries, it doesn’t get brittle, it rubberizes. So if something would disengage, it would disengage with a rubbery strand instead of just snap off.” Therefore, the car art could better withstand elements like wind and rain when driving around, though she occasionally left a few things on the highway behind her.


The four different art cars Toby created, from 1986 – 2009, garnered her a lot of attention. Along with the pointing, honks and smiles she received while driving her art cars, she was also interviewed twice by WTVD 11 News, once by The Spectator, and she even made the front page of the Chapel Hill Newspaper.

Toby & Harry Blank (on right) in Front of Harry's Camera Van, Chapel Hill, 1996

There is a national art car movement in the United States, and even a famous Art Car Museum in Houston, Texas. But Toby was never interested in being a part of the cartist culture. “I’m not a joiner or a group person. I never did it for the glory or self-promotion. I prefer the term ‘mobile artist’ but I guess I am a cartist, though.” That was confirmed one day in 1996 when Harry Blank of Wild Wheels fame contacted her out of the blue, asking to film her car for a new documentary movie he was making about art cars. He came to Chapel Hill in his own art car, a camera van, and filmed Toby’s Baby Doll car, but he didn’t end up including it in the movie.

Many cartists try to make a statement with their art cars. Not Toby. “I don’t know why I did it. I guess I did it because I could. The opportunity was there. There was no method to the creation process. There was no planning. It was totally arbitrary and random. Just fun. I find something and it goes on. I just thought, ‘This will look good someplace.’ None of the cars were valuable or fancy – they just needed to be prettified.” If she had to choose a statement about her art cars, though, Toby said it would probably be, “Leave no space unfilled.”


After her fourth art car eventually broke down in 2009, Toby decided her next cars would be art-less. She is enjoying the anonymity immensely. “It’s so visual and so obvious. It’s such a public and a deliberate display. One thing about having an art car — if you are having a bad day or are feeling sad, people are pointing at you and laughing wherever you go. That was the most challenging part of having these cars. There were dark days in my life and I couldn’t get away from the attention. That is one of the reasons that I like having the cars I have now.”

Does Toby think she will every drive an art car again? “I’m done for now. Well, you know… we age, we get older, we change. Though, I’ve been really tempted. There have been times where I see some of the stuff in my house and think that would look really good on the car. But I’ve resisted. It’s been a test of fortitude, but I’ve resisted,” she says laughing.


“If you like being seen in public and like attention, you’re going to get it. You cannot avoid attention in an art car — you have to love being in the spotlight and like talking to people. But you have no sense of privacy. If they see your car is parked somewhere, like at a store, they know you’re in there.” Another disadvantage for anyone who might be considering filling Chapel Hill’s art car void created by Toby’s retirement, is that art cars can’t really be cleaned. “It’s impossible to wash them without damaging them. Sometimes, I would spray Windex or Tilex on them, because they would get really moldy – REALLY moldy. And then spray-hose them off, but then things would come off. After a while, it would get really gross — completely covered in black mildew.” Good advice from our town’s veteran cartist.

Toby’s art cars were truly spectacular. For descriptions, photos and videos of all four of her art cars, click here to read the Chapel Hill Recorder article: Art Cars.

Category: People

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