Many who grew up in Miami in the 50s, 60s and 70s will remember that we had our share of kookie artists and bohemians. One of the best known was Lewis Vandercar who just referred to himself only as Vandercar. Vandercar lived in the Morningside area at 331 NW 18th St., with his wife and two kids son David and daughter Muggins, where he had his studio and home. His home was run like a salon where anyone could come at anytime and visit. Many of the neighborhood kids loved to come and play in the sculptor garden. As an artist, Vandercar painted and sculpted in cement, his garden filled with his statues and his home with his paintings. Vandercar was a mysterious figure that liked to say he was a warlock and a clairvoyant. He called himself "Magus Supreme, pro tem of the Supreme Order of Magi" and someone with mysterious powers, specifically ESP and the power to levitate. He hinted about incarnations and said an alien entered his body as a young man.
However, Vandercar's most interesting quirk was his very funny pranks. He would take out ads in the local newspaper which were very funny. He said he had a pet poltergeist, and then tried to sell it through a classified ad. His classified ads in the Miami Herald were frequent: “Sale: Swamp colored UFO. Must qualify.” “Free Cruise to Bahamas, Bring oar.” “Electric car. $25,000. Extension cord extra.” He sold "roc eggs" in one ad. He said he rediscovered the ancient secret formula to make and impregnate the eggs of rocs, mythological birds. A woman bought the eggs and had them shipped to her Chicago home. Later, Vandercar admitted the eggs were really made of garbage piling up in back of his home. He didn’t want to haul it away, so he covered it in plaster. He didn’t tell the lady, but sent her a check for the shipping costs. VanDercar later explained: “There is some sense of the ridiculous that can be carried to such an extreme that it becomes beautiful. Take the time I predicted that a great extinct primitive bird was going to appear at midnight in the park. The newspapers exposed it as a hoax. Even so, at midnight, 150 people showed up in the park to see the bird. That was beauty.”
Born in Detroit, Vandercar never got beyond 8th grade and entered the Navy during the Depression to help support his family. In the late 1930s, he became an animator, drawing Popeye cartoons from his Miami studio. He entered the Merchant Marine in World War II and later worked as an aircraft engineer. He returned to Miami, where he worked construction jobs and ran a plumbing shop. Then he learned he could make a living from his hobby, painting and sculpting. He decorated an exterior wall of his house with faces of every age and culture, Greek gods, sea monsters, heroines, gargoyles, Moses, faces from Egypt and India and China, and many other places. He also created mountains for resorts and amusement parks, and built a gorilla’s lair for Monkey Jungle in South Dade’s Redlands. In 1971 he built "Annie", a giant dragon, 65 feet long and 35 feet high for a Merritt Island Park. Twenty tons of concrete and steel were brought in to ‘Dragon Point’ by wheelbarrow, as the only access was a wooden boardwalk. He left Miami in 1973 and bought an 14 acre parcel of land in Zephyrhills where he built a dome house of his own design and continued to sculpt and paint In 1984, he returned to Miami for a short while to repaint a reconstructed limestone bridge at Arch Creek Park. He painted the concrete and iron used to rebuild the bridge so it would look like limestone. He was still painting days before his death in 1988.
“He spent 30 years and died doing what he liked,” his son said. “Not many people are able to do that.” Vandercar once said: “Many people think what I do is ridiculous, but not intelligent people. Most people are fearful and they don’t enjoy life because they’re afraid to take a change and do what they want. So intelligent people admire your courage.” It's a shame Miami no longer attracts the Vandercars of this world.