Published June 4, 2007
Tom Van Nortwick, master of automobile pinstriping (photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program)
Tom Van Nortwick, master of automobile pinstriping (photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program) 

Tom Van Nortwick of Franklin County is Virginia’s master of pinstriping, the precise application by hand of a thin line of paint to create designs on auto body panels. Tom grew up in the mid-1950s around hot rod auto riggers and played around his neighbor’s race car. Tom saw his first auto races during visits to his father, a mechanic and artist living in California. It was on these visits that Tom first saw the designs of Kenny Howard, a.k.a. “Von Dutch,” generally considered the founding father of pinstriping. Years later, Tom started “ripping” his own designs at the encouragement of master hot rod rigger John Rinehart. Tom has since become a legend of the craft in his own right, and cars bearing his designs have been featured in countless national magazines. Tom had his young apprentice, Andrew Elder, have ample canvas to practice on in Andrew’s father’s Staunton, Virginia, antique auto shop.

A guy called me to do his car and he said, “Do you have all the colors of tape?” I said, “No, I don’t use tape, I only use paint.” He never knew that these were actually lines painted by hand. See, very few people know what pinstriping is. But it’s an art that goes back thousands of years, even to the chariots and to ancient Egypt…

When I learned how to do this, I saw guys at car shows pinstriping, and I got some of my first designs from them. The main thing to do is get a straight line. Everything is based on that, and then the design stuff comes later. Everybody’s got to get their own style after they can paint a straight line.

—Tom Van Nortwick, master pinstriper


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