by Kirby Lindsay
This column originally appeared in The Seattle Press, published June 14, 2000.
The Fremont Arts Council’s 12th Solstice Parade, the pride of Fremont, will be dancing down our streets on June 17th. Mary Lou Salter, and her son Dylan, plant to be there with their impressive float, “The Nightwalker Battles the Forces of Evil,” and they were kind enough to share the process with me.
The first step – inspiration. Last year they built a pedal-cart Pikachu that Dylan ‘drove’ during the parade. Mary Lou was so pleased with the result, she grew even more ambitious this year. As they walked out of the Japanese Animation film, The Princess Mononoke, “Mom said, ‘We are doing THIS!’”
Last year, Mary Lou met Chuck Nafziger when he was ‘Mom’ (the person responsible for, each day, for the parade workshop) at the Fremont Arts Council Powerhouse. His specialty is finding creative engineering solutions to a multitude of problems, and he was instrumental in the design of the scooter.
This year, Mary Lou called Chuck immediately and enlisted his help. He had seen the film and shared her enthusiasm. Originally they talked of building an ‘iron town’ with Lady Eboshi climbing it.
However, the most compelling character to Mary Lou, the Nightwalker, soon became the central focus of the float. Chuck went home to build it, and Mary Lou moved on to the next phase.
Step two requires securing a float body. The Fremont Arts Council (FAC) has ten wooden platforms on wheels that are used every year. In the spring, volunteers push the bare forms from storage to the FAC home, the Powerhouse. Then the public is welcome, for a $10 workshop fee, to select their float, first come, first picked, and use materials in the Powerhouse to build them.
The FAC is an all-volunteer organization so it can be difficult to get phone and e-mail messages answered in a timely manner. It requires patience to get through – or, in Mary Lou’s case, persistence. She and Dylan spent many hours on the first two days to secure the platform they wanted.
Decorating is step three. Mary Lou feels most comfortable finishing a project before deadline. Her goal is to have her float finished a week before the actual parade. A month before the parade, she began her first creation – a full scale yak.
She assembled the chicken wire frame. Jeff Jaramillo suggested building diaphragms to give the creatures more strength and Mark Ukelson gave her gator board to build them. Scrounging the depths of the Powerhouse, Mary Lou found fake fur. “Going crazy,” at Archie McPhee’s novelty shop, she found many materials including eyes.
“Bad guys always have pink eyes,” I was instructed as Mary Lou used hot glue to attach eyes, affixed to plastic spoons with floral clay, to the yak. The Boar God, who is cursed, has spoons colored pink to denote his evil inclinations.
Mary Lou is a floral designer, although nowadays she dedicates herself full-time to Dylan’s home schooling. Her work experience gives her a firm grasp of some skills, like molding chicken wire shapes and creating a forest canopy to shelter the Nightwalker.
Cutting out two wolves from plywood, using a rusty saw from the Powerhouse, was outside her experience. The first wolf took hours. Loan of a power saw, from Chuck, taught her the ‘right’ way to create a wolf.
As promised, Chuck also provided Mary Lou with a towering seven-foot metal frame – the Nightwalker. It is an awesome sight. According to Mary Lou, Chuck deferred her compliments, pointing out that this was the ‘easy part’. Mary Lou must affix the batik fabric she made to the frame, and for Chuck, with his metal abilities, that seems ‘hard.’
A week before the parade all sorts of interesting creations are materializing in front of the Powerhouse. Mark Ukelson’s float, inspired by Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are, promises to be a popular entry. The wooden form of a many limbed tree stands on another float. Meanwhile, Dylan and his Mom are nearly done.
This leads to step four, helping others. “Last year people would just walk up when I stalled,” and offer suggestions, Mary Lou recalled. After she finished, she enjoyed lending a hand.
“The best part for Dylan is definitely helping others build their floats,” she admitted. When I first asked Dylan about his favorite part, it was, “screwing the stuff down with the electric drill.” Another week he was proud as a peacock for having fixed two broken microwave ovens in the Powerhouse.
The last step, on the march to the parade, will be pushing the finished float down the street – all Solstice floats are human powered. If Mary Lou can find volunteers willing to help her shove the float, with Dylan on-board dressed as Prince Ashitaki, she will have realized her goal.
Somehow, after all she has done, I hope this will be a cakewalk.
©2011 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.