Auto Art

As I go about my business, making calls on various automotive oriented shops and attending select swap meets, I have noticed a trend. I am observing an increasing number of enthusiasts that have begun to create original objects of art. And they are now presenting them right alongside their other wares for viewing and possible purchase.

I’m not talking about shellacked river rocks with googly eyes or cute sayings but legitimate artwork created by real craftsmen. The objects themselves are as varied as conceivable- limited only by the imagination of their creator. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about…

I stumbled across Donnie Talbert’s art in a combination tire salon/service garage located in Stayton, Oregon. After I commented on his coffee and end tables, a friend of Donnie’s suggested that I meet with him personally and made the arrangements. Talbert is an unassuming young guy that is employed as a union glass worker. After spending a few minutes with him my gut feeling was, “This guy is the real deal—he possesses a true artist’s sole. He is sincere and totally committed to what he’s doing.”

I think some people would describe Talbert’s work as “steampunk” but it is so much more. He describes it as “motorcycle art” or “rat rod art” but I don’t think that is accurate either. Everything I saw required a high degree of engineering to execute. And everything I saw (unlike steampunk), looked clean and was brightly finished. The amount of time Talbert devotes to each table or lamp is clearly evident and reflected in his asking price. “I make unique art,” he proclaims. “No cookie cutter.” His artwork is lowbrow and high-end… simultaneously! I strongly urge everyone to check out his stuff on Instagram at: broken_gear_art.

By contrast, there is enigmatic Jim Nichols. I found his artwork in a second hand store in Sweet Home, Oregon. Nichols builds approximately twelfth scale vehicles out of cardboard, found objects and bits of this and that. I purchased his version of a ’32 Ford Roadster for a paltry fifteen dollars a couple years ago. When I returned to the shop a few months later, they had sold out of his creations save a stagecoach-like affair. The owner of the shop had no phone number or forwarding address for Nichols. He described him as “an old man” and that was the extent of the information I received. It is all together possible that Nichols is no longer among us…but man, what a creative guy! The proportions of my Roadster are damn close. It has opening doors, an opening trunk and a removable hood which reveals a detailed engine made of cardboard, duct tape, a plastic bottle cap and god knows what. The low profile roof is upholstered as is the interior. The wheels and tires are made from jar lids and caps. The headlights are bottle caps filled with clear RTV!

Nichols is/was very familiar with hot rod building and I have to wonder if he also built full scale models. If he is out there in reader-land or if anyone knows him, we would certainly like to hear from you. I know your fellow readers would enjoy seeing more of his work.

Finally, I make auto-themed shadowboxes (or memory boxes as some people call them.) I assembled my first one during the summer of 1974. It was high school themed because that’s where I was in my life in ‘74 but it included automobilia as I was already a committed car guy. Since then I have assembled many boxes with specific themes like: Early Hot Rodding, Early Nascar, Short Track (Hardtop) Racing, Bonneville, Midget Racing, Sprint Car Racing, Indianapolis, etc. I thoroughly enjoy the process and experience great satisfaction when I complete one. Generally, I give them away to close friends or family; I have donated them to fund raisers and presented them as trophies. I have actually sold a few.

From the beginning, my intention has never been money motivated. In fact, I’ve lost money on even the boxes I’ve sold. That is because the price of the boxes themselves plus the automobilia therein, cost me more than I can possibly charge for the finished shadowbox…but I’m okay with it.
I am compelled to create like Donnie Talbert whom I suspect will continue to build his amazing tables and lamps even if no one purchases them.

I wonder if Jim Lambert ever collected the fifteen dollars I paid for his Roadster?

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