Where It All Began

Clearly the finishing touch for any carefully constructed vehicular project is the subtle painted filigrees and thin stripes that command the eye as the beholder begins to really look. Have you ever wondered where those fanciful designs came from? Vehicular décor began with the chariots of the affluent, thousands of years ago with gold leaf scrolls and thin accent stripes that implied quality and would persuade appreciation from the viewer. The circus in the 1800’s had extensive hand carved and gilded scrolls on their wagons, again to impress the viewer and establish the investment made in the caliber of the show. 

This decorative art form developed through the ages as proud tradesmen used quality carriage decoration and wagon striping to establish their output as high quality. Pinstripes became the benchmark of carefully engineered and accurately constructed vehicles. Precise stripes could only flow over wooden joints that were tight and carefully crafted wrought iron components were complimented with accent designs. Great pride was attached to the decoration that was part of the process of these proud craftsmen. In a recently unearthed letter to a customer, responding to an attempt to order an undecorated Studebaker wagon, the refusal comes from the manufacturer. “If you want wagons without stripes you don’t want a Studebaker”.  

 Fire engines have perhaps the most famous reputation for elaborate decorations.  Originally “fire companies” were independent, private affairs in competition with one another. The premise was simple.  Elaborate decorations associated with a particular fire company implied that their firefighting equipment was superior.  Artisans with a background of floral specialties, dimensional and intricate geometric scrollwork, elaborate letter styles and Celtic designs flourished during this era.  The heyday of gold leaf scrollwork and finesseful pinstripes peaked prior to the fire companies becoming municipal affairs.

The tradition of pinstriping accompanied mankind into the gasoline era. The carriage stripers followed the manufacturing evolution into the horseless era. Their accent stripes were included as a finishing touch on many early automobiles that competed for a share of the market. 

 When car design exploded after World War II, so did the personal expression that boomers found in building from a plethora of car parts and decorating in the emerging style, what became known as hot rods.  Iconic artists created ratfink monsters; hid faces in fanciful pinline designs and the flame became the preferred artistic statement to suggest power, speed, testosterone and thrills.  

  Throughout the eighties and nineties, the genre waned as the computer began to assist yet distract the artist playing with this new device with which to produce signs and images.  Hand produced lettering and pinline images seemed to fall from grace in the mainstream. A few dedicated artists kept their hand in the delicate world of creating designs with brush and paint.  The motorcycle culture, the Hot Rod and classic automobile aficionado kept these elite and finesseful brush men busy.  

 Now in a new millennium, custom paint enjoys a resurgence that to the limelight of the TV reality shows. With roller derby and flying eyeballs making a comeback, the centuries old art form of pinstriping enjoys a resurgence as, once again, the delicate lines add not only a finesseful accent but clearly define the prestige of the owner of the vehicle.  

The artist who can transform a personal idea into a one-of-a-kind expression continues to provide the means with which the consumer can convey the message of quality, pride and entertainment across to the viewer. 

 Although pinstriping is the name for a specific manner of achieving a particularly thin effect with a specific brush, it has grown in understanding to include many other enlightening techniques that find their way on the exteriors of today’s automobiles, motor homes and especially motorcycles.  

    For something new to make your ride distinct, look to the timeless artform of pinstriping that continues to entertain, delight and elevate with a one-of-a-kind expression of pride, envy and fun. 

- Dave Letterfly Knoderer