One man’s obsession is another man’s compulsion…and sometimes the two combine in what is known as obsessive-compulsive behavior…which can either get you medical treatment or take you to new levels of achievement.
Artists of one kind of another, whether they brush on colors or chip away at marble, or for that matter, design custom motorcycles…often fit into that description…and the world a much more interesting place for it.
Soaring to new heights of “engineered art, Don’s signature sculpture is called “Golden Blades.” It features 14 separate blades set in a mathematical progression. Fashioned in 24K gold plated billet, Don’s innovative designs blend hi-tech with advan garde art. Viewed from any angle, and under the play of lights, its linear precision is reflected from all its surfaces.
Case in point Don Nowell. His name pops up frequently on the Internet because he’s made his mark in a number of areas…as a prototype designer, a race engine builder, a motorcycle builder and most recently a creator of what he terms “engineered art.”
Balanced Art – built with space age tolerances and the finest plating techniques, Don’s expressions create a unique “architecture of form and aesthetic function.”
Working from his home/man cave/design studio in Granada Hills, CA, Don’s resume rings, we should, roars with SoCal hotrod history. When asked to trace the evolution of his work that led up to his ‘engineered art” sculptures, Don says, “It all stems from racing. I did pretty good in my high school shop winning the Rotary Club Award out of 300 students for an electric motor I built in 1958 as a junior at San Fernando High. Then when I built my ‘gasser’ in the 1960s it really taught me a lot. There weren’t any how-to books or YouTube back in those days and I just learned from watching, using my head and competing at the drag strip.”
Don’s scale model “Offy Sprint” cars came with show quality pearl paint jobs.
Don’s next step was a big one, entering the world of CanAm and building race motors for none other than international renowned McLaren Racing, prepping the parts here and sending them to England for final assembly. In 1968 he was there when they building the first M8 McLaren 427 aluminum engines in Van Nuys. By 1969 Don was dialing in TransAm motors for the industry famous Jerry Titus Team. He was off to Bonneville and hanging with the guys from Hot Rod magazine, literally tearing up the performance world on four wheels. “I saw a lot of interesting stuff going on and was always interested in learning more,” says Don. “That included racing of all kinds…cars and bikes, boats and sprinters, you name it, if it had wheels and burned rubber, he was there.
In 1973 he went two-wheeling, designing and building his vision of a dirt bike, scratch building his own frame, and making it super light for blasting off-road trails, the nickel plated chromemoly frame and swingarm weighing in at only 18 lbs. Says Don, “The bike was powered by a big bore 386 short rod stroker that I built that spun to 10,000 RPM. The whole bike came out ringing wet, ready to fly, weighing 220lbs.” Don then went on to build hot rod custom street bikes for various customers, including some celebrities, for example a flat tracker 750 Hatley-powered Triumph for Bobby Carradine.
You could say he “downsized” in the 1980s, taking an entirely different track, when he began prototyping and building specialty model trucks for the famous toy company Smith-Miller Toy Trucks, a relationship that lasted 20 years. He was taking a bite out of all kinds of design areas, even working up design projects for dental tool companies. If you could point at it, Don could envision it, draft it and build it. “After building the toy vehicles, it opened my eyes to the world of modeling. I had seen some of the super high-end car models built in Europe, but since I was working on bikes, I decided to build a ¼ scale model.”
The two foot long, 12 lb. quarter-scale bike’s knucklehead motor is a fully functioning one and sounds way cool. Even tires were real Avons.
The project, formulated in 1994, took a year to complete, the bike then debuted at the Petersen Museum in Los Angles on the occasion of the opening of its Harley-Davidson Room. The meticulously crafted models, including some 152 handmade miniature screws, garnered the attention of the Milwaukee Motor Co. as well, one of Don’s bikes now on display at the Harley-Davidson Museum. While they were initially modeled after the Evo motor, Don linked up with The Replica Motor Co. who were building fully running scale model Knucklehead motors which Don proceeded to plumb into one of his bikes he designed as a chopper. It was a match made in motorcycle scale model heaven. Today only 14 of Don’s “mini-bikes” exist, as rare as you can get, and now they can be found in the collections of international connoisseurs of craftsmanship.
Don’s next foray was into “classical art” but with a new approach to sculpture infused with his years of engineering and design experience. Says Don, “ I decided to step out of my 50 years as a gearhead and try a whole new venture….learn something new and do something entirely different. I wanted everything machined like an aircraft part…a piece of sculpture that in fit and finish would satisfy the perfectionist.”
If you sense of bit of motorcycle in the design, you’d be right. This particular piece, simply titled “GoldenWood” measures 22-inches long, six inches wide, 12.5 high.
As for the choice of materials, Don says, “You can’t ask for anything better than Mother Nature’s finest… gold…and the trickest woods available. There’s nothing like seeing the gold and woods together…it’s the best of the best.” Toward that goal he opted for 7075T6 billet aluminum, the hardest you can get but also the best for acquiring the 24K highly polished gold plating. The choice of woods offered include Maple, Walnut, Burbinga burl, Tasmanian Resin Vein Eucalyptus, Buckeye burl, American Redwood and others, all finished to perfection. Several pieces are currently available as well as those by commission.
If you’re interested in investing in art that grows in value every day, to www.donnowellart.com or call Don at (818) 363-8564.