Along the backroads of any state across America, you will find garages full of folks building their dreams, realizing their passions, and exploring talents that demand an audience. For Joe, that audience arrives with every car and truck passing by his stretch of two-lane highway set within the woods of southern New Jersey. Joe’s slice of roadside life is just a glimpse in to the creative heart that makes up this American automotive artist, but it is a frame in passing that stays with you on down the road. His collection displayed is a scene, like many others, to remind those in passing that our time here is what we make of it, and what we do with it can carry on long after we are gone. While men like Joe create for the love of creating something new, something from their own imagination, their art is a legacy to leave and a tribute to a life’s effort and work. At the very least, it sure makes for a reason to pull over and enjoy a moment outside and a glimpse inside the mind of a car guy.
“I’m an artist, and I do it for the art of it,” Joe says. “I do it my way. Most of the time, the car gets sold to someone, but sometimes I fall in love with them. I started with models. I went from 1/25th scale to full scale. Basically, I’ve always had art in me. It’s a God-given talent. I’ve never had any classes in art, but more of an on the job training through the years. I do pinstriping, lettering, sculpting, you know, any number of mediums. The majority of it is car related. I’m real strong in display art, and basically the outside of the property is the display. Do you know what I mean? It’s intended for guys who want to take pictures of it. I’ve been on this property for 25 years. A fast friggin’ 25 years. My art is not beautiful, but it’s interesting. It’s all done with an artsy feel.”
He may not consider his work to be beautiful, but it has served him well as a reminder to live life fully and to let passions take the wheel. A few health scares and a motorcycle accident left Joe had temporarily kept Joe from his creative outlet, but when life slows him down, his art gets him going once again.
“The last few years I have had a, I can’t say it’s a string of bad luck, but some interesting challenges,” Joe says. “So, I am and will be here a lot more now. I do a lot of artwork. I do a lot of signs for people, and I make them look old with that patina mentality. The whole point is to make them look old. People say to me, ‘Do you collect signs?’ I can make signs!”
Like most with the space, time, passion, and money for their car collecting hobby, Joe has a garage full of projects he considers traditional builds as well as a few hand-built hot rods. Just don’t call them rat rods!
“My specialty would be working on ’32, ’33, ’34 Fords,” he says. “Rat rod is a term that’s parting company with most people. Today, this would be a traditional car, done as they were originally done. With the rat rod mentality, a lot of young guys got in it and just made the car, well, ratty, unsafe. Come on! I like a touch of it, here and there, but to make the whole car like that could make it look like you live next door to Pep Boys. You know what I mean? So, no.”
Along with cars, Joe channels his creative drive in the form of signage, which he proudly displays both inside and outside his garage workshop.
“All the signs out there, I made them,” Joe explains. “The one on top of the door out front, the one that looks like a car, that’s made from a surfboard. And the sign on top of the garage door is also a surfboard. I did that one about five years ago. It’s time to pull it down and repaint it.”
Joe is a gracious host to those inspired to stop by view his displayed work, but do not expect to find his garage in the phone book or online. Even with all the signs he has created and has hanging, none of them read with a name of a business.
“My shop has no name,” he says. “Underground. You know? Under the radar. Most people just call it the Hot Rod Shop. The Woody out front has to be one of the most photographed cars in the state of New Jersey. That car has been out there about ten years. It’s been redone once. It’s time to redo it again. The sun just eats the hell out of it. The rain does it too.”
While Joe does do jobs for customers, his main focus is to create art to outlive the artist, so much of his display, his gallery, is not for sale. Rather, it is to be enjoyed in passing and in smiles and stories shared up the road by those who took the moment to stop by and explore the creations of one man on a backroad of America. For him, putting a project out on the roadside, on display, serves not only as symbol of accomplishment from a finished piece of art, but as a start of the next project in waiting within the mind and heart of an artist. As Joe knows well, his work will never be done. There will always be the next idea to realize and too many that life will never be long enough to reach.
“I don’t mind people stopping to see my art, but no pickers,” Joe says. “I have a friend, and every time I talk to him, he mentions the surfboard sign. He’s been bothering me for years trying to buy it. I see that with cars all the time. They’ll say, ‘No, it’s not for sale.’ And, you know, more power to them. Maybe it keeps them alive, thinking they’re going to get to it. They’ll never get to it.”