'Drake's Dilemma' (left) captures a 1940 Ford in a classic scene from World War II. 'Off to the Opera' tells its own story with a woman's dress coat laying across the seat of a 1932 Ford sedan.

Scenes from the American car culture

An accomplished automotive artist and designer, Roy Jones was first recognized in 1959 when his drawing of a customized '57 Ford Thunderbird was published in Rod & Custom Magazine. He was about 19 years old. Later, in 1987, the magazine featured an interview with Jones. His artwork also became commissioned for use by Ford Motor Company historian and author Lorin Sorensen.

A retrospective exhibit of paintings by the late Jones will be displayed through Sept. 28 at the Grants Pass Museum of Art, 229 S.W. G St. The exhibit is being held in conjunction with Grants Pass' annual "Back to the '50s Celebration" which concludes this weekend with a classic car show, car cruise and street dance.

The exhibit, "Classic Car Art," features 39 acrylic paintings of 1930s and 1940s Ford cars and hot rods. Jones' paintings set a standard for automotive art, brilliant compositions and reflective surfaces of lush paint jobs and glittering chrome. But his work didn't receive the reputation that his talent deserved. Little information about the artist is available.

Jones' passion for cars developed at an early age. While attending high school, he hung out at a body shop and watched as cars were customized and painted.

Drawn to the car culture in southern California, Jones moved to Los Angeles in 1962. He intended to study art and design, but became intent on the custom car scene. He focused on the work of artists such as Kent Bash and Tom Fritz, along with automotive designer Gene Winfield.

He was as enamored with hands-on experience working on cars as he was with painting them, taking care of much of the labor on his own cars.

Jones' paintings captured scenes from classic American culture. His art brings to mind the work of Norman Rockwell, the cover painter for the Saturday Evening Post, because of its narrative quality, such as "Drake's Dilemma" and "Off to the Opera," shown here. His most poignant, and last, painting was completed before his death from cancer in early 2000. Titled "The Pinstriper," it depicts an elderly man passing his craft on to the younger generation, just as Jones has passed his passion for cars onto others.

The original paintings at the Grants Pass Museum of Art on loan from the private collection of Bob Drake Reproductions Inc. The Grants Pass-based company manufactures replica parts for classic Ford cars and pick-ups, as well as parts for hot rods. Drake started his business in Woodland Hills, Calif., where he met Jones. The two began a collaboration that lasted until the artist's death. Jones' automotive art has appeared on Drake's catalog covers, calendars, T-shirts and Web site.

"Other than that, we don't know a whole lot more about Jones," says Randy Johnson, creative marketing director for Drake.

"We don't know where his family is, but we think it would be fantastic if they could see this show," says Johnson. "As far as we know, his artwork has never been displayed before."

Drake and Shannon Fain, Drake Reproduction's publications director, will present a talk about Jones' art at 3 p.m. Friday, July 27, at the museum. The museum will be open until 9 p.m. after the event.

Regular hours at the Grants Pass Museum of Art are noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Call 479-3290 or see gpmuseum.com.

The "Back to the '50s Celebration" car show will be held Saturday, July 28, at Riverside Park. Awards will be presented at 2:30 p.m. A classic car cruise will be from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sixth and Seventh streets, and a free concert and street dance will be from 9 to 11:30 p.m. the corner of Sixth and G streets.

Call 476-5773.

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