STURGIS, S.D. -- April 24, 2008 -- Thunder Road will once again be home to the annual Custom Motorcycle Art Exhibition during Sturgis Bike Week 2008. Under the direction of Michael Lichter, and with the blessing of the late Johnny Chop's family, this year's exhibition, titled "Stay Gold," is being held to honor Johnny Chop and will feature builders who approach their work with the same passion that Johnny demonstrated in each bike he built throughout his short life. This passion radiated from Johnny's being and was enthusiastically expressed on his knuckles, which were tattooed with the eight letters - S-T-A-Y-G-O-L-D - that became the exhibition's namesake.
Some of this year's custom bike builders are widely known and some are hardly known, but they all share one thing - a passion that draws them into their garages over and over again. These garages can be dark, damp and dirty. They are typically cold in the winter and sweltering in the summer, but they become home to a form of creation, which we can call art, or more specifically folk art. These builders spend countless hours using their creative skills to produce something that goes beyond the utilitarian function of a two-wheeled conveyance, all without any promise of financial reward. The resulting custom bikes can provide transportation cross-town or cross-country, but at the same time, they are aesthetic objects that project the hearts and souls of their creators.
To participate in the "Stay Gold" exhibition, the builders must be living their passion of building custom motorcycles or making art about them, but they cannot earn a living off their endeavors. Some make their livings doing service work in bike shops, while others support themselves as tattoo artists, contractors or within the confines of a straight 9 to 5 job. Among the more then twenty bike builders participating are: Ben Jordan, Bill Steele, Jeff Decker, Kutty Noteboom, Michael Pugliese, Nik Pew, Skeeter Todd, Steve English, Tattoo John Surprenant and Tom Foster. Some of the artists included in the show are Anthony "Scout" Underwood, Armando Salbana, Cole Foster, Jeff Cochran, Jeff Decker, Nik Pew, Seth Liebowitz and Tattoo John Suprenant.
"The participants in this exhibition are driven by their passion, not by the promise of money or fame," said Michael Lichter, the exhibition's organizer. "Most of them have barely sold a bike or piece of art, except to fund their next project. They are living in that magical time where creativity knows no bounds because there is no customer dictating their wants and needs."
Some of the builders already have "shops" that are open to friends at night or weekends - places to share tales of the road, a beer and some elbow grease, and others may eventually feel compelled to hang an "open for business" sign in their windows, but most will keep their art and livelihood separate. Regardless of where their paths may lead, we hope this group of artists will forever "Stay Gold".
While the tattoos on Johnny Chop's knuckles were part of the inspiration for the "Stay Gold" title, the exhibition also drew its name from other sources. Johnny Chop loved the film "The Outsiders" where the idea to "Stay Gold" was immortalized, but the concept's origin goes back to the poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost:
Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
"Stay Gold" will be on display in Thunder Road's Thunderdome from August 1 through August 8, and operating hours will be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Admission to the Thunderdome is $5, but there is free parking and Glencoe Gold campers get in free.
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