Although this Modern Day Badass Hot Rod was not built in California ~ The Style it Embodies is completely a la Ed “Big Daddy” Roth 1963…
And California-Style It Is…Having seen, owned & been exposed to A Lot of Hot Rods, Federico had to admire Blown to Be Wild for the Sheer HotRod Audacity, Craftsmanship & Total Big Daddy RothNess of a Monster Car Come to Life ~
Though we now use any manner of digital technology to create Modern Art, preserve Nostalgia, Pop Culture & Retro-Everything, ( which I am Shamelessly Guilty Of ), One of the Most Iconic California Pop Maestro MasterMinds, Mr. Ed Roth, like Mssrs. Matisse, Picasso & Dali before him, gazed for the most part Wholly and Phantasmagorically Into the Future. None of these Neo-Artistes sat and lamented on Things ‘Back in the Day’, but completely without the aid of computers or digital devices of any kind, Roth created a FantasyLand of FantasticNess we now Worship as California High Art …and Rightfully So ~
Big Daddy embraced a wholly original technique d’art. Using Plaster of Paris to create a master shape for his Outlandish California Creations, he would hand form a molten batch of Goo into a hardened Futuristic Shape and cover it all with FiberGlass, a relatively new media technology developed during World War II. What would begin as a Big Mess on the floor, Roth would transform into a Rolling Renaissance Machine, like “Mysterion” above, built in 1963 and “Beatnik Bandit”, below in 1960.
” In Africa I had got this fantastic idea for a fiberglas car when I saw a picture of Henry Ford beatin’ the trunk of one o’ his new ’41 Fords with a sledge hammer and it wouldn’t dent. Ya could’a knocked me over with a feather. It was also very cheap! It could also be done by people with little or no talent and I had both. It seemed too far out for my brain so I just dismissed it ’til I saw the LIFE article. In ’57 I started playin’ with ‘glas’. I got some of the gooiest messes ya’d ever wanna see. My pants are always ruined by the end of each day, but in them days I’d have to throw ’em away each day. Shoes was good for about 4 days before I’d throw a coat of black paint on ’em.”
“First I had the frame which was your basic ’29 Ford rails and fitted this junk Caddy engine into (junk but ran good). I knew fiberglas existed but couldn’t get anyone to help me (except Dirty Doug later on) so I was gonna make me a body outa wood like the Shadoff Special guys’d done. But it was too complicated and besides, wood and me don’t jive! So I went to the local lumber yard and got some casting plaster (which is gross ’cause it dries so quick) but it was cheap and better’n wood.”
“Makin’ the buck was no problem. Guys in Detroit was usin’ clay since the early 20’s but clay was a buck a pound. Forget it! Plaster was a buck for 100 pounds. I used that! Then I covered the plaster with this messy, ooey, gooey stuff. I mean, like, it just ran into this big pile of mush on the asphalt. It was devastating.”
From “Hot Rods By Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth”/Roth,Thacker 1995
Early Big Daddy – hand airbrushing Monster Shirts, pre-Fame and screenprint days. Above right, Justifiably Proud Big D with Outlaw, 1956-60. His 1st FiberGlass car, and its Offspring, the Revell licensed model kit of it you can still buy today.
Gazillions of the model kits were made of several Roth creations..and for a while at least, in His Heyday, Big Daddy was makin’ Big Bucks..He had literally Created a Monster and Mysterion defined the Early 60’s California Hot Rod Era ~
Roth built Most of his Masterpieces along with producing his T-shirts at Roth Studios, his very Low-Techy Mad Scientist’s Laboratory on Slauson Avenue in Maywood, an L.A. suburb. Revell American produced model car kits that featured the “Beatnik Bandit” and “Road Agent”. Other model kits included “Rat Fink” and the gang, a group of hot rodding monsters. During 1963 Revell paid Ed “Big Daddy” Roth a one cent royalty for each model sold. In 1963 Ed brought in $32,000 that year in royalties, that’s a lot of model kits…
Big Daddy Ed, The Old World Craftsman, built his California Creations almost single-handedly in his small shop, heating and blowing Plexiglas Bubble Tops for his Masterpieces in a pizza oven, like some Mad Venetian GlassBlower Time Travelling to Shakey’s ~
Later On he got so busy he hired a few Dedicated Employees, guys like Dirty Doug, Robert Williams and Ed ‘Newt’ Newton, who drew most of the Cool Monster T-shirt designs. Years later, Roth would work with Moldy Marvin, who carries on the Roth Legacy, maintaining ‘All Things Roth’ to this day.
Roth was Getting So Big he started printing Catalogs – Perfect Reading During 4th Grade Math Class…
His lightweight, rear-engine Space-Age Road Agent, used a rear-mounted Corvair engine and ultra-light construction, you’ve gotta love those StarTrek pods on the sides….preceding the StarShip Enterprise, which wouldn’t be seen on the new T.V. show Star Trek for another 2 years…
Big Daddy, no Average Beatnik – demonstrated a Stroke of Pure Genius completely devoid of Modern Technology….i.e. arguably the first use of what we know as ‘RGB’ color in a non-printing application, with the lighting on his Orbitron, below, 1964. An excellent article on Orbitron is here :
Big Daddy had a family to support. He had quit his job as a Window Display artist at Sears-Roebuck and financed his Custom Car Creations work through sales of the ‘Monster’ T-shirts, travelling around to various Custom & Hot Rod Shows and related events for years, parlaying his designs into lucrative licensing agreements with Revell, for the Model Kits. Today we think of the T-shirt, with any manner of design on it, to be anywhere from ‘Designer’ couture – as in a simple black petite ladies T-shirt with ‘Prada’ on the front, to a 12 year-old’s latest Volcom ‘Surfwear’ 18-color-cool-for-a-week-design.
Every time you see some ‘Metal’ or ‘Punk’-flavoured design or ‘Urban’ streetwear, and All the Kids and Half the Adults are ‘rocking’ Cool Skulls-this-or-that, you’ve got Big Daddy Roth to Thank, because he Did it First…
Roth did his original shirts by hand, graduating to silkscreens in one to 3-4 colors, a contemporary of Mr. Andy Warhol with regard to screenprinting technology. Considering a Warhol screenprint is now worth several hundred-thousand to millions of dollars – at the same time Big Daddy was knocking out hundreds of screenprints, all the while producing 3-dimensional full-size Rolling & Driving Works of Art.
Another often overlooked aspect of Big Daddy’s Intellect were his sometimes subtle to blatant messages to Us Kids on the subjects of Anti -War, Question-Authority, yet showing Respect to Soldiers, Servicemen & Country, Government, Cops, The Establishment & encouraging us to ‘Stick It to the Man’.
Of course it was All in Fun and he was just Covering All His Bases. This was 1963-1965, Vietnam was still relatively unknown to the Average Kid, but the Big Kids knew, and Roth was speaking to them too ~
Although Roth knew Full Well – Kids were his Audience, his Army in America and We Were the Future …
…he wasn’t always so Popular with the Parents..but in Retrospect – through his Crazy California Ways, his Humour with Tongue Firmly in Cheek and his Unmistakable Genius, maybe he was Right…and perhaps now one can ask – have we Learned any Lessons he was trying to Let Us in On ?
I was In The Presence of The Great Big Daddy Roth Twice. Once at the young age of my Peers in the photo above, at an L.A. Car Show, watching Roth airbrush T-shirts, just like in the photo up top there, by himself working away, covered in paint ~ a cloud of enamel haze around his head.
He obviously made an impression, as 10 or 15 years later, I was now a young Graphic Designer/Sign Maker sharing a studio not entirely different than Roth’s above with an early partner, whose Dad was Head of the Graphics and Sign Shop at Knott’s Berry Farm. Big Daddy was working there at the time, toward the End of his Career. So of course we went to see him, and I was Beside Myself. Walking into this archaic wooden, very rural-style shop left over from the Early 30’s Days of Knott’s, my expression upon meeting him was no doubt like those of the boys in that photo above, a Jaw-Dropping Idol of mine. I had been One of Those Kids. Roth had managed to Pinstripe, Flame, Scroll and Letter – in tiny script practically the entire surface of the Shop Interior with Big DaddySpeak.
With a wry grin, towering over me – he shook my hand and chatted with us for a few minutes, before mounting his Equally Vintage Cruiser Bike, also completely BigDaddy-ized with Perfect Pinstriping and Dazzling Druid Decoration on every inch of metal surface, as He Rode off on yet another Fantasy Mission into the California Sunset ~
It’s Important to Remember, or to learn anew about Where We Live – for California has Contributed Greatly to the Arts, even inadvertently through other Intentions and Inventions in the Past, now considered Art Forms…
In our Typical Jaded California & Occasionally Uninformed Way, it took Two Non-Californians to Remind Us Locals that indeed, Time Waits for No One, and Rust Never Sleeps. Los Senores Mick Jagger & Neil Young ~ Muchas Gracias Hombres
Therein lies the Essence of our Stories here in Federico de California. As all of Our Highly Regarded FdeC Researchers are currently Out on Spring Break surfing, snowboarding, hiking, skiing, just Generally Carryin’ On or Out on WalkAbout ~ It’s left to me to Tell the Tale…
In the Beginning there were The Chumash ~ They had it all to themselves. Abalone of several pounds on the Beaches and Lobster in the Tidepools. Wild Game in the Hills and Mountains, Bear, Deer, Mountain Lions, abundant Halibut and freshwater Trout in the Streams. They Fashioned their jewelry from Abalone and Conch Shells strung with leather from hides. Their Canoes were light and fast, carved of wood in sections and the seams sealed with tar, natural seepage from the Natural Petroleum offshore. They lived in villages along the ocean, pretty much Grooving on the California Scenery much the way we do today, in places like Umalibo ~
Scholars differ regarding the meaning of its name; although it is certain that “Malibu” can be traced back to the Umalibo ranch belonging to the native Chumash Indians, the actual meaning of the word is uncertain, although it could well be the name of a person. And Albeit Several Generations later, The Greatest California Surfer of them all, none other than Miklos Sandor Dora, a 1st generation Californian of Hungarian descent, along with the Chumash should well have monuments erected to them along the Coast of Malibu today. It was they who most truly appreciated their place and although separated by many generations and cultures,
I like to think they Understood Each Other in that regard…
It is in a Most California Hurry Up & Remodel – Screw the Past Way, many of us today do not understand, California is an Art Form in of Itself ~
And Then, one day The Chumash looked up from their village to see the White Sails of the first Europeanos ~ The first outside explorers, flying the flags of Spain and of England, as they sailed along the coast of California for the first time from the early 1500s to the mid-1700s, but no European settlements were established. The most important colonial power, Spain, focused attention on its imperial centers in Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines. Confident of Spanish claims to all lands touching the Pacific Ocean (including California), Spain sent an exploring party sailing along the California coast. The California seen by these ship-bound explorers was one of hilly grasslands and wooded canyons, with few apparent resources or natural ports to attract colonists. And with these first Explorers from Another Land, so came the first Objets d’Art with them. It can be said travellers from Ancient Peru and even the Sandwich Islands (Hawai’i) and Beyond preceded them, but that is all getting a Little Heavy for old Federico ~ as I have mentioned, the Staff Anthropologists are all Out To Lunch. We’re here for the Art & The Culture a little more as We Know it Today…
Talavera pottery is the Mexican variation of the Spanish majolica produced in Talavera de la Reina and other Spanish cities and which derived from Italian Renaissance Majolica, with Islamic influences. The craft arrived in Mexico after the Conquest (1500’s) when the city of Puebla was settled. Talavera is a very stylish and beautiful glazed pottery originally produced in Puebla only by Spanish artisans as glazing was unknown in pre-Hispanic Mexico. It is likely these were some of the first types of Objets D’Art brought by the Europeanos into California, and Talavera pottery and tiles were produced in great quantities to meet the need for architectural tiles, tableware and utilitarian pottery in the New Spain. For New Spain was what California was About to Become. Baja California, specificially La Paz, was one of the original Ports of Call for the Spanish coming aboard. This is Somewhat Before Carlos N’ Charlie’s and the Giggling Marlin were Established.
The Espanoles were also very skilled Woodworkers & Carpenters, bringing with them Religious Objets D’ Art in the form of Paintings – many from Italy. Altars, Furniture, Doors and all manner of Dieties, Crucifixes and as we shall see, eventually in Part 2 ~
Their Descendants in Mexico, who created that Ultimate California Kitsch Folk Art Souvenir ~ The Mexican Black Velvet Painting. Honour the Dios !
A new Breed of the Populace Had Emerged ~ Los Californios …
As we Now have all of these Talented, Creative & Romantic-Minded Spanish Folk in our Backyard, of course They were all having Such a Good Time, and as Californians have been known to do, especially when on an Extended Holiday in Baja ~ in the Parlance of the day…it was Time to Party.
The New Californio people possessed a European background of Literacy in the Arts, Skilled Trades and Horsemanship. In one Big Rock & Roll Move, they brought with them the Spanish Guitar. Their Explorer adventuresome spirit, bred with the Distinctly Mexican skills and resources in Mining, Cuisine, and the Numero Uno skill of Tequila Distilling. So…Now it’s all starting to Make Some Sense, ¿Que No? A handsome New Breed of People were ready to Bring it On and Venture Norte’…
Early Californio Artesanos naturally made handicrafts more of necessity than decoration, however combining a skill gradually more refined and ornate. With the abundance of Mexican Silver enriching not only the Spanish government, also through the trappings of the Well-to-Do, especially in form of Saddlery and Jewelry. a Vaquero’s saddle was not only testament to his skill as a rider, also to his Position in Society, much the same as Today’s California Car Culture.
Many decorative designs in 1800’s Native Mexico for Blankets, Serapes, Ponchos and Jewelry motifs were borrowed from those of Native North American Hopi, Navajo, Zuni and Ancient Anasazi Indian tribes. The geometric patterns were inherited from thousands of years of related cultures not far away in Arizona and New Mexico, or Pre-Colombian motifs to the South. The Spanish introduced Colonial influences from their holdings and all were absorbed into a Progressive Climate of Growth in the arts, forming the basis of much of California’s Cultural Arts ancestry today ~
As the Mexicanos & Californios migrated North, and were influenced by Native American design, the Biggest Factor in Commercializing Mexican Culture into California came by way of the Easterners & Midwesterners in America ~ California Here Come the Yanquis ~
Prominent Yankee businessmen & Families made their Way West as the Railroad progressed ever further toward Virgin California. The Mexican Californio Government had established Presidios staffed initially by the Spanish and gradually giving way to Mexican rule throughout the Californias in the Early 1800’s. However ~ once high-falutin’ Soldier & Warrior-minded Yankee Businessmen like John C.Fremont made their ways into California to the North, followed by the likes of the Irvines, The Hollisters and the Stanfords.
All these stiff-lipped White Boys with their Patrician East Coast ways came on Hell-Bent to Take Over. Mexican Rancho and Land Grants to 1st-Generation Californios and Mexicanos were gradually taken up by the Easterners, and they Sure as Hell weren’t going to be imbibing any California Indio Tequilas or wearing Navajo Concho belts. And On They Came ~ And they’re Still Coming. They brought their English, Irish & French Baroque Upper-Crust style of Painting and their Harpsichords all in Major chords, and much the same as the sound of a major key Clashes with those of Andalusian and African-rooted Minor key Spanish guitar…
During the Bear Flag Revolt, Frémont imprisoned José de los Santos Berreyesa, the alcalde, or mayor, of Sonoma; two Berreyesa brothers; and others he believed were against him. On June 28, 1846, Berreyesas’ father, prominent landowner José de los Reyes Berreyesa, crossed the San Francisco Bay and landed near San Quentin with two cousins, twin sons of Francisco de Haro, the first alcalde of the Presidio of San Francisco. Berreyesa intended to visit his sons in jail. Frémont ordered Carson and two others to shoot and kill the three Californios, as there was no room for more prisoners. Later, Carson told Jasper O’Farrell that he regretted killing the men, but that the act was only one such that Frémont ordered him to commit..
Within a very short time, Fremont & His Yankee Army went South to capture first – The Presidio at Santa Barbara, and On South to Capture the Pueblo de Los Angeles. The Mexican -American War was over ~ and the Yankees were Now Large and In Charge of all California Norte. Now that all this War-Mongering was over, The Yankee Business Machine went to work and the Classic Spanish Period was over ~ at least until Yankee Ingenuity hit on the Great Idea of marketing California’s Own Native Culture Back to Itself…
All this Back-selling of one’s own resources from under their feet smacks of one of California’s Characters of Fiction ~ however loosely based on fact….
One of the Earliest Yankee Artisans to embrace the Spanish-Mexican Arts Culture and market it successfully as a saleable Art Form was an authority on Architecture from New York, William Spratling. Spratling had travelled West first to New Orleans and visited Mexico, first in 1926. Spratling quickly was introduced to and became a welcome participant in the artistic circles of Mexico. His activities in promoting the art of Diego Rivera among New York galleries led to his participation in the first exhibition of Mexican arts held in the United States. The exhibit was funded by the Carnegie Institute and opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Spratling assisted in assembling the exhibit and also lent a number of his own pieces. During this same period, Spratling was working on drawings for the expanding Morrow home in Cuernavaca. Many of these drawings were included in the book written by Elizabeth Morrow, Casa Mañana.
Dwight Morrow, the US Ambassador to Mexico, suggested to Spratling in 1931 that Taxco had been the site of silver mines for centuries. However, Taxco had never been considered a location where jewelry and objects of silver were designed and made. Subsequently, Spratling hired an experienced goldsmith from Iguala who moved to Taxco and created silver jewelry of Spratling’s design. Other craftsmen joined Spratling’s shop and produced tin ware, copper items, textiles and furniture – all designed by Spratling.
These earliest designs were based on pre-Columbian motifs as well as simple themes utilizing rope borders, strap designs and other such basic ideas. The enterprise grew far beyond Spratling’s expectations. Because he had created an apprentice system of training young silversmiths, many new talented artisans had an opportunity to develop their craft. Over time, many of these artisans opened shops of their own – all with Spratling’s support.
Other Enterprising Yankees ~ influenced by the Emerging Success of Latin Style & Culture through Artists like Matisse & Picasso, would soon realize a Spanish Cultural Revival in Architecture, The Arts & Design, Ceramics, Furniture & Music and would soon Capitalize on the once fading and Now re-emerging Spanish Style…as we shall see…