Jeff Decker grew up in the hustle and bustle of Southern California, heavily influenced by his father who raced, customized, collected old cars and owned one of the country largest vintage speed equipment collection. With him, young boy Jeff visited Steve McQueen, Ed Roth and Von Dutch and spent most of his weekends prowling aisles of swap meets, then developed his mechanical aptitudes on different contraptions while in school he was already demonstrating his excellence in art. Finishing college in Utah, not sure about his calling, Jeff took a job in a foundry that specialized in lost wax castings for fine art bronze. After mastering the art of making molds for others as a young aspiring artist, he worked with well-known sculptor Stanley Wanless, then jumped at the opportunity to apply his new skills to express through sculptures his love for vintage racing, his fascination for the dynamic and mechanical beauty of motorcycles. It’s the way Jeff, already a young Motorhead, became a motorcycles Historian to become a better Bronze Sculptor and Memorabilia Collector…
Jeff Decker uses his hand-made fine art bronze as a way to take our motorcycling history and culture to a higher level. He describes his love for historic motorcycles as a selfish life-long impulse, his sculptures has an urge, his collection of vintage bikes, photography and clothing (especially rare by-gone club cuts) as a way to tell untold stories about an era of true Americana. He explains: “Early motorcyclists were simply post-industrialist cowboys. In terms of transportation, the motorcycle was even more important than a horse because it was totally created by, and dependent upon those who rode it. It is an extension of ourselves. Without its rider, the motorcycle is nothing. Just a machine. And with its rider, it must be moving or it will fall down. There is nothing that embodies the urgency or our age and the modern synergy of man and machine better than a motorcycle and its rider. It is a perfect marriage of the mechanical and organic aspects of our world.”
Jeff Decker is a husband and father of 4 feeling very fortunate to have as his career what would otherwise be his passion and hobby. From his “Hippodrome Studio” in quiet Springville, Utah Jeff usually undertakes his sculptures from real antique motorcycles, not from photographs. They are all complex and very detailed pieces of art taking months to complete. They are sought-after by fine art collectors all around the world for their quality and fast appreciation. Although frozen in bronze, racers and their bikes seem in movement, on the verge of losing traction in a tight turn with wheels looking like they are spinning… Decker’s most popular works include “Wrecking Crew,” a 16-inch tall bust of a pre-20s racer; “Slant Artist,” the 75-pound, 40-inch tall sculpture of a rider fighting an Excelsior hill climber on the verge of flipping over backward,”Petrali Racer,” an 18-inch lbronze of Joe Petrali at speed aboard his 1937 Knucklehead; “Flat Out at Bonneville,” a depiction of the iconic image of Rollie Free in bathing trunks setting a world speed record aboard his mighty Vincent. He is an official sculptor for the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Co. and one of his most outstanding sculptures is probably “By the Horns” the 16 ft 5000 pound monument he created in front of the Milwaukee Museum. His work can also be seen at the Museum in Pickerington, Ohio, and at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.
This August in Sturgis, renowned photographer Michael Lichter organizes the exhibition “Slant Artist, An Eccentric View on Motorcycles and Art” focusing on Jeff’s art. In addition to ten of his beautiful bronze sculptures, the 7,000 square foot gallery at the Legendary Buffalo Chip will be filled with a large and eclectic display of motorcycles and wall art culled from his personal collection, friends and other artists. Among Decker’s own collection to be displayed, historic pieces such as his 1914 Harley-Davidson Twin (that he rode across the United States in the Motorcycle Cannonball race) and unusual bikes like his 1930 H-D DAH Hill Climber and a 1949 H-D WR racer. Also to be displayed the machines that he personally customized, like his 1941 Crocker and 1952 Vincent. Decker will also be working on a new sculpture in the gallery for several hours each day during which time visitors will be able to chat with him and ask questions from the basics of “lost wax” bronze casting process to motorcycle history or how ”Slant Artists” – the incredible motorcycle racers who climb steep inclines against the clock and each other – have impressed thim to the point where he spends his life depicting them in bronze sculptures. Answering to my questions, Jeff reveals a little bit more that he has ever done about his deep passion and personality. Jeff Decker Hyppodrome Studio. (photography copyright and courtesy LabCoatMedia for Cyril Huze)
Cyril. In High School, what did your teachers say about you? Jeff. I don’t know Cyril, I was generally sent out of the room before they spoke their mind.
Cyril. Who were your childhood heroes? Jeff. My Dad, Racer X, Bob Hanna, Mark Boiln & the Vato kid down the street.
Cyril. What was your 1st vehicle? Jeff. A quarter midget with a 10hp McCulloch & locked rear end, which made it impossible to turn hard on asphalt and made for plenty of yelling on my dad’s part… ‘Brake it loose boy & stop being a pussy”
Cyril. If you were not a bronze artist, what would you do? Jeff. Try to get someone to pay me to write restaurant reviews or travel guides.
Cyril. Best/worst qualities? Jeff. Best: I can really see potential in others as well as things. I can visualize ideas well. Worst. I do not know when to bite my tongue.
Cyril. What is your favorite way to relax? Jeff. Putting ear plugs in & reading. Walking the aisles of swap meets.
Cyril. What is the last music you downloaded in your iPod? Jeff. I don’t have an iPod nor would I know how to load it if I did, but a good friend just put 9 days of continuous listening from Adolescents to Robert Johnson on my computer.
Cyril. If you were a style of architecture, which one? Jeff. Spanish Colonial Revival.
Cyril. What are you afraid of? Jeff. Being in a very serious motorcycle accident & not dying.
Cyril. If you would be able to keep only one motorcycle in your collection, which one? Jeff. The 1914 Cyclone, without question.
Cyril. Which movie(s) have you watched more than 3 times? Jeff. Harold & Maude, A Clockwork Orange, Ghost World and of course, Sling Blade.
Cyril. The fastest you went on a motorcycle? Which one? Where? Jeff. I brought a Ducati 748 to well over 150 mph on a long straight country road in Utah. I totaled the bike going much slower on a curve, less than a week later, peeling skin from my ankle to my hip. I don’t own super bikes anymore.
Cyril. Do you have any tattoos or piercings? Jeff. No, but I might get ‘insecure’ written backwards in a gangland font on my throat, so I can read it when I look in the mirror. I can’t remember if Cole Foster or Indian Larry gave me that idea.
Cyril. Name five things you hate. Jeff. 1- Choosing between lying or hurting someone’s feelings. 2. Anonymous blog posts. 3. Being over charged by taxi drivers. 4. being cut off by truck drivers. 5. Cell phones at dinner.
Cyril. Do you practice/watch any sport? Jeff. No, I am highly uncoordinated, I have no rhythm. I love surfing, but I suck. I like looking at race motorcycles in the pits more than I like watching the race.
Cyril. What is your best life achievement? Jeff. The ” By the Horns” monument at the Harley Davidson museum.
Cyril. What was the last book you read? Jeff. 2 or 3 open books at all times. I just finished SHANTARAM, by Gregory David Roberts. His life story is interesting as his book, and he rides a motorcycle…
Cyril. Where is your favorite vacation place? Jeff. I am very fortunate, because I go to rallies and expos all over the world, I stay a few extra days and work turns into a vacation. It is the people that make the places great. All over the US, Italy, Japan, France and I really want to visit Spain.
Cyril. What’s your pleasure in collecting? Jeff. I can only say, if you reach into your childhood and think about the night before Christmas or the day before your birthday, and remember that feeling. The feeling of anxious, unbridled excitement, that anticipation that almost hurts. That is what a collector feels when he scores. It must be like a junkie getting a fix. When I am walking down a row at Davenport & find the last piece I need for a restoration, a piece I needed so bad I would have gladly payed $1000 & got for $100., I want to dance a little jig. The hunt for rare motorcycle memorabilia, is as rewarding as the actual find. Once you have the trophy, the initial high slowly wears off & I start to give stuff away.
Cyril. What was your worst buy? Jeff. I can’t remember, I have a pretty good eye… and, I am in denial. Oh yeah… not my worst buy, but the time I got conned on the internet. Someone, out of the blue, asked via email if I still needed 20″x 2″ Boranni rims, which I did. The price was cheap… too cheap. Funds where to be sent to a small berg in England by Western Union. Of course the rims never came, but thats not the end of it. When I asked the dude where my rims where, he said he needed more money, for shipping & customs… Yes, I sent more.
Cyril. What was the most embarrassing thing you have ever made? Jeff. As a sculptor, I have the luxury of not putting a mold on most of the things I sculpt.
Cyril. Artist of any century you admire the most? Jeff. Da Vinci, from visionary mechanical sketches to perfect human form. A specific bronze sculpture by Cyrus Dallin of Don Quixote in full armor astride a sway back horse. Perfect humor from a serious artist. Last but not least, my mentor, Stan Wanlass.
Cyril. When was the time you were really angry? Jeff. When I was riding and got hit in the face by a lit cigarette, thrown from a car window. What made it worst was the lack of acknowledge from the driver to my road rage.
Cyril. What is your perfect weekend when you are at home? Jeff. One where the word motorcycle isn’t used once.
Cyril. What is your preferred rally? Jeff. I like new events or ones that take me out of my element. Japan & Italy have are my recent rally favorites.
Cyril. What is the worst question a journalist asked you? Jeff. The question was not so bad, it just shouldn’t have been asked to me. I tend to be honest & don’t know when & where to shut my mouth… with that in mind… I was asked “What do you think of the future of our sport( motorcycling)?” Well, I was rather flippant with my answer, & the cyber cowards( those that post anonymously) went crazy. Now I love a good hater, they keep us all grounded, but why ask me such a question? I fancy myself as an historian. Collect old racing bikes. Collect cuts from early defunct clubs. Build customs from marquees that no longer exist. Sculpt motorcycle race scenes from a bygone era…I am consumed by the past and naive to the future, I don’t remember how I even answered the question, but it wasn’t good.