“No other country in the world stirs up as much emotion as America,” claims Alexander Stubb of the European Parliament, who is kindly disposed to us himself.
He continues on to note that “Europeans love to hate and hate to love” us, as if that were some kind of shocking surprise. They can take a number and stand in line with the hosts of American leftists who think Shangri La is a European capitol city. Yes, there are many “Ameriphobes” here and abroad but does it really matter?
Because hating, or at least always assuming the worst about, Americans is the mode du jour (for ultra far right, every degree of the left, paranoid schizophrenics and a work requirement for CNN), it’s such a joy to find exceptions in places you wouldn’t expect. Especially in France.
Tucked away on a coastal highway in the Brittany region of France, travelers may happen across the most remarkable sight: something like an old prop house full of arcania left behind after filming a John Wayne movie. Louis Ame and his “Routiers Americain” or “Truck Stop America Museum” are both living memorials to America, the West and especially her enormous, superlative, iron-clad, monster vehicles.
Both take an unsuspecting tourist off guard. Ame at 83 is a retired bus driver who dresses the part of a Tex-Mex rodeo cowboy in colorful cotton shirts and Western hat. He graciously greets camera men and visitors with enthusiastic explanations of his creations (all in French of course). A gigantic winged mustache hangs off his face, leaving him looking a lot like Buffalo Bill Cody, a deliberate tactic I’m sure.
But instead of the requisite horses, Ame houses a stable full of “trucks,” which he creates himself, inspired and aided by photographs and models sent to him from the U.S. These monsters are scale-model replicas of buses, fire engines and Mack trucks made of almost anything but steel. He cuts, hammers, fuses and glues tin, paper, wood and plastic into his fleet. Ame’s finest replica, taking him two full years, is a 20-meter Kenworth on a 1/10 scale. It peacefully coexists alongside a mock-up Phantom jet, vintage Lancaster B17 and fishing trawler, among other oddities in his cramped space.
Highly authentic, his models tout CB radios, sleeping quarters, toilets and the most minute details – they are very convincing. He didn’t forget the mud-flaps or pin-ups either (tastefully blurred I noticed). The elderly artist conjures his fleet entirely out of found objects, beach debris and local recycling heaps.
The following video portrait of Ame and his art by jo pinto maia may be in French, but it’s still a fascinating look at the man’s work:
Please excuse my French, (literally) as I struggle to comprehend M. Ame in his native language. In a short video made by Jo Pinto Maia, Ame explains his daily ceremony raising large American flags each morning. The place looks like a ramshackle U.S. post office from a distance and signals tourists that he is open – but not for business. Ame’s “Truck Stop America” museum is free to the public, and his work a labor of love and admiration since 1993. Visitors drop in from across the globe and leave offerings such as the license plate collection from New Mexico, Canada and other spots.
An almost life-size, wooden “Indian” statue guards the entrance of his collection of definitely “Outsider” art. Beyond him walls are covered with advertisements and mock highway signs marking Route 66, another repeated theme, and Western music plays in his little corner of Franco-America.
This unassuming, retired driver wasn’t thinking “art” when he began his fleet years ago, but built what he loved with passion and excellence. The indefinable edge that separates craft and fabrication from art will always be a point of contention, especially in non-traditional forms like a Mack truck.
It’s taken Ame years of work to come to this point where his Museum is publicized through world of mouth and now a few art films. Last year he participated in an exhibit in a place almost as eccentric as his own, the “Sémaphore de la Pointe du Grouin,” which is an old naval-signaling facility.
Ame is a bit of an unofficial ambassador as he graciously invites his European neighbors in to celebrate what he considers exceptional about America in a time when it isn’t a hot dinner topic. His philo-Americanism is an innocent and joyous reaction to objects and history he finds personally fascinating. There’s no political agenda here. With moods souring on both sides of the Atlantic over recent events, Ame reminds his countrymen of a shared past and makes a case for the very things we’re pummeled for on international altars – our industrialism and even military strength.
France hasn’t needed the apologists that the U.S. has recently, especially in the art world. In reaction to slights, Americans can boycott Camembert and rename some greasy potatoes, but every third home still has a Monet “Waterlilies” reproduction lying around somewhere.
Ame is old enough to remember World War II and the liberation of France by America and allies, but that isn’t the only reason he loves all things American. From childhood, he describes an enchantment with things like Christmas trees and Santa Claus.
Ame remembers promising himself that “one day I will open up a museum” and decades later – so he has. Visitors have an opportunity to purchase small handmade trucks and other items, including scale models of the entire museum itself.
Simple and almost anti-academic, Ame promotes what he loves in America without any apologies: American natives and cowboys in Hollywood suspense; factories and foundries churning out thundering hulks that roam the nation like iron buffalo; and millions of miles of road, offering adventure and a chance to turn around. Refusal to follow the charted path is the soul and charm of “Outsider” art. It is rarely mainstream, trendy or swallowed up by orthodox political thinking. What a relief.
Visitors are welcome to visit with Louis at:
“Truck Stop America Museum”
36 rue Quesmiere
35120 Hirel; Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany, FR