Local painter earns national acclaim

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comMarch 22, 2013 

The Pointer Sisters may have been talking about Curtis Stapleton when they asked for "a man with a slow hand."

The 22-year-old pinstriper has carved out a niche in town as a custom painter of just about anything -- bikes, motorcycles, cars, bowling pins, you name it. It takes concentration and a steady hand to paint the symmetrical stripes with a thin brush.

Stapleton said he was drawing one day when a friend told him to try the art of pinstriping.

"I'd never thought of it; I always liked the way it looks," Stapleton said, adding he picked up a few cans of paint and brushes.

"I went at it every night for a couple months until I got it down," he said.

Stapleton said he's been pinstriping for two years as a freelancer, and one year with American Rod and Auto in Los Banos. His profile was elevated this month when a photo of a Schwinn beach cruiser he motorized, custom built and painted made it into Rebel Rodz, a hot rod magazine aimed at do-it-yourself gearheads.

"That's where it clicked that I was actually good at what I do," Stapleton said, adding it was a car magazine that recognized his bike.

"I care more to be respected than to be well known," he said.

Stapleton was at the Gene Winfield and Larry Watson Custom Car and Hot Rod Gathering in the Mojave desert with the bike, which sports ape-hanger handlebars and a lime green paint job, when the photo was taken. He said while there he worked with George Barris, a customizer known for his work on the 1960s Batmobile, Munster Koach and KITT from "Knight Rider."

Pinstriping is an artform that's been around a long time, but hot rod owners caught on in the 1950s with the work of artists like Winfield, Barris, Von Dutch and many others. Hot rods and rat rods, which are classic suped-up vehicles that appear unfinished, are gaining popularity again especially within the rockabilly scene.

American Rod and Auto's antique room holds several other of Stapleton's projects -- a 1940s walker for babies, a wagon shaped like a hot rod, a 1950s oil tank and a counter made from the trunk lid of a 1960 Chevrolet Impala -- all of which are adorned with pinstripes. The shop, Stapleton said, gets much of its hot rod business from the Bay Area, Fresno and Clovis.

Stapleton said he's pinstriped classic cars and modern-day imports; he's busy seven days a week.

"There's a lot more younger guys like me coming into it," he said.

The 2009 graduate of San Luis High said he transferred from Los Banos High with the intention of joining the Coast Guard after graduation, but asthma disqualified him from those plans. He said college wasn't in his cards.

Stapleton has already sold the bike that appeared in Rebel Rodz. He said he constantly had passers-by asking him about it, including four times he was stopped by police.

The bike was complete, so it had to go, because he said he likes to be able to tinker with his mode of transportation; he's got his eyes set on a Studebaker.

"I just ended up selling (the bike), because it's done now," he said. "I'm ready to move onto something different and start building that."

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

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