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Retired car designers to showcase their works of art at upcoming gallery exhibit

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Retired designer Rodell Smith. Still from American Dreaming trailer.

Aiming to eliminate the industrial stigma the art world has attached to automotive design and renderings, two collectors and chroniclers of the works of art have assembled a showing of car and truck renderings in the heart of Detroit and have invited many of the original artists to showcase their work.

“Only a small fraction of this art ever got out of the carmakers’ studios,” said Greg Salustro, one of the curators of the exhibit. “Most of it was shredded or thrown out; what was saved was either removed by the automakers’ permission or was smuggled out or rescued from Dumpsters.”


Rodell Smith rendering. Still from American Dreaming trailer.

The practice of sketching, rendering, and designing cars on paper dates back to before Harley Earl began the Art and Colour studio at General Motors, but, in the decades since, the artists behind the work have always been seen as commercial artists and not true artists, Salustro said. As he pointed out, the same estimate once held for architectural artists, fashion designers, and even photographers, but each of those fields has started to gain recognition as a fine art, so why shouldn’t automotive art?

Thus Chicago-based Salustro and Detroit-based Robert Edwards have embarked on a quest “to make sure these artists are recognized in their lifetimes,” Edwards said. “We’re doing this to recognize a huge part of American culture and car culture that has largely been overlooked.” Their quest has put them in touch with dozens of retired designers and has largely taken the form of an in-the-works documentary, but has also materialized in last year’s display of renderings at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan.


Rodell Smith rendering. Still from American Dreaming trailer.

Their latest exhibit of renderings, Salustro said, is similar to last year’s, but will include works of art from a wider time span — 1946 through 2000 — and feature a wider range of artists. “We’ll have every major American carmaker represented except for Studebaker,” Salustro said. About half of the exhibition comes from Edwards’s collection, but the rest consists largely of works the artists themselves have held on to over the years.

“And many of these guys were artists,” Edwards said. “They might have supported themselves as car designers, but when they came home at night, they had their own side projects.”


Rodell Smith rendering. Still from American Dreaming trailer.

The display will include work from artists including GM designer Roger Hughet; GM designer Bill Porter; AMC designer Vince Geraci; Ford designer Bud Magaldi; Ford designer Buck Mook; GM designer David MacIntosh; Ford designer David Griffiths; GM designer George Camp; GM designer Steven Brown; Ford designer Charles Balogh; Kaiser-Frazer, Packard, Briggs, and Chrysler designer Bill Robinson; and Ford, Chrysler, Packard, and Hudson designer Rodell Smith.

Several of the above – including Hughet, Porter, Geraci, Magaldi, Mook, MacIntosh, and Robinson – are slated to appear at the show’s opening reception this Friday.


Rodell Smith rendering. Still from American Dreaming trailer.

The ultimate goal of Salustro and Edwards’s quest, they said, is to see the work of these artists collected, preserved, and displayed in art museums – including, ideally, the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum – alongside traditionally recognized fine art. “It’s a shame it isn’t already,” Edwards said, “but we hope that somebody there will take note after seeing enough displays like this one.”

The exhibit, which will take place at the Scarab Club in downtown Detroit (just across the street from the DIA), opened January 6, and runs through February 13. The opening reception will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. this Friday, January 8; the Gallery Talk for the exhibit, which will also feature some of the artists, will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. January 21. For more information, visit or