The Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza Relives all Things Classic
By Ryne Gannoe
Denton Live July-Dec 2012
Brian Hughes rumbles through downtown Denton in the red-and-white 1969 Chevy pickup he bought when he was 26 and has lovingly restored over the past two decades. His hands, one resting now on the red-and-black custom leather interior, show the toll of his work: Calluses mark his fingers and grease lines the crevices of his fingernails. He restored everything on the truck – its vintage short bed, the factory paint color, the leather seats, even the hubcaps. The gauges and dashboard match once more. The only new touch is a Tommy Hilfiger logo hanging from the rear-view mirror, an addition made by his 10-year-old daughter.
Six blocks south of the Courthouse-on-the-Square, Brian rolls to a stop at Gene’s Paint & Body Shop, where he’s worked for 27 years. He climbs out and stands by the truck. His 6-foot-1 frame towers over the low-slung cab. Though he’s 45 now, his brown eyes light up like a kid unwrapping a Christmas present as he talks about the restorationwork. He’s pretty sure his love of cars and all wheeled things runs through his veins, a family legacy. “It’s on my mom’s side. My uncles were into cars,” he says. “They raced cars in California. One uncle raced speedboats and did all the mechanic-ing. I guess it’s just in my blood. If it burns fuel and has tires, I’m interested.” His gray-specked mustache and goatee part to reveal a smile.
Brian got hooked on cars while taking an auto body course at Denton High School. He can pretty much fix anything on a car, he says, but his specialty is bodywork. Every September for the past two years, he’s used that expertise to judge vintage cars and motorcycles at the annual Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza, and Denton’s nod to all things classic. Clipboard in hand, he circled the city’s historic downtown Square inspecting fragile Ford Model Ts, vintage Chevy Camaros that look like they were forged from steel beams, souped-up trucks and roaring Harley-Davidsons. He scored each vehicle on a scale of one to 10 for its paint job, interior work, engine compartment and finishing touches.
This September, however, when the judging begins, Brian won’t be judging. He will be entering his own 1969 Chevy short bed alongside the 160 to 200 other competitors vying in 23 categories. “They have a lot of nice trucks in my class,” he says thinking about the odds of winning. “So, it’s kind of stiff competition.”
Although the car competition is the main event for Brian, the Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza is about all things timeless –vintage cars in pristine condition, antiques from centuries past, art in every form and, above all, family ties. The Denton Main Street Association, the nonprofit responsible for revitalizing the city’s historic downtown, started hosting the event in 2000 to bring residents downtown for a nostalgic weekend. “That’s what our whole mission is. It’s about preserving our downtown’s heritage, where we’ve been, and celebrating where we’re going,” says Christine Gossett, one of the organizers. “When you think about all the differences between the generations and how this brings them together -- and gives them an opportunity to share stories and communicate without the interruption of media - it’s kind of nice to see that happen.”
Anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 visitors pack the Square, checking out cars, listening to live music, and perusing artwork that ranges from handcrafted jewelry to woodworking. Kids chase one another across the lawn, stopping only when their parents corral them into a craft booth. Patrons pack local shops such as Denton County Independent Hamburger Company and Beth Marie’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream parlor from open to close. Antique shops offer
appraisals for families with old timepieces, jewelry and heirloom furniture.
This year at the Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza, and visitors can browse paintings, sketches and other art forms depicting historic downtown Denton while listening to live music. Local arts and crafters will sell their handmade
jewelry, pottery and woodwork as well as paintings and photography displayed at booths around the Square. The courthouse and art galleries on the Square will display some local art to be entered in a contest and a silent auction, with proceeds benefiting the Denton Main Street Association and its Texas Main Street Program revitalization efforts. “These building have stories. They tell tales. They’ve got history. Our emphasis on being a Main Street City is keeping the integrity of these buildings and focusing on our preservation of downtown,” Christine says. “When people move here and come to downtown for the first time, they can’t believe it. They’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea this was here.’ They come from communities that maybe were newer cities, or didn’t preserve these types of places in their towns.”
Like other parents in the Denton area, Brian brings his daughter every year. “They’ve got the bounce house which my daughter looks forward to, a guy that shows up doing kettle corn – that’s a big deal for her – and the face painting. She loves stuff like that,” says Brian. Her interest in cars is growing, too. One day the truck will probably be hers, he says. “You just see a lot of little kids who look like they’re interested in cars. I think that’s cool. You have these kids nowadays that have their computers and all their fancy gadgets, but they are looking at these old cars and [you] can tell that they like ’em.”
Brian has entered his Chevy in other car shows over the years, but the Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza is his favorite because of its small-town feel. Only one car, truck or motorcycle can bring home the show’s highest automotive honor: Best in Show. But judges pick first and second-place winners in 23 classes, including motorcycles, trucks and Corvettes. Besides the bragging rights, winners take home trophies that blend art and automotive, including several made of hubcaps polished and painted by local artists.
At Gene’s Paint & Body, Brian orders parts, manages the shop and does estimates on fender benders. When it’s busy, and it’s been non-stop for the last year and a half, he can be found buffing out scratches, mounting new fenders, or pitching in to help on odd jobs. He can’t imagine doing anything else; he’s loved fixing cars ever since he wrecked his first truck, an aqua-green ’72 Chevrolet pickup. His parents told him if he wanted a vehicle, he’d have to do the repairs himself. “I took a fender off and the hood off, put a new fender and hood on, and I was, like, I can do this, I think,” he says.
Ever since Brian got his red Chevy truck running again, buyers have been looking to take it off his hands. The answer is always no. Brian has put so many hours into his truck –buffing out dings and dents, sanding the entire truck for its new paint job –that he’s lost track of the time. He bought the best paint available at the time, an investment he deemed well worth it. He’s fixed the engine, cleaned it and polished it. He put in a new transmission, updated the air conditioning and even some of the upholstery work. He polishes the tires with Armor All before every show. The car show judge in him believes polished tires make the biggest difference.
His beloved Chevy was originally a trade he made with his boss. “I traded him a truck that ran fine, and I wind up having to push the truck in here [the shop] to get it running so I could get home,” says Brian, amused. “When the deal first went down, I was kind of wondering who got the better end of the deal.” No longer. His boss now regrets the trade. Brian is so proud of the truck that he drives it around town all summer. Come September, he’ll drive it to the Square in Denton in hopes of taking home Best in Class.
[just the facts]
What: Arts, Antiques & Autos Extravaganza
Where: Around the historic Downtown Square, 110 W. Hickory St.
When: Sept. 8, 2012, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Free parking: Parking lots and streets around the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square
Auto registration: $20 day for early registration. Check the website for details.