Remembering an Artist, an Illustrator, and a Hot Rodder of the Highest Measure
By Brian Brennan – Illustrations By Dave Bell
It’s been some 11 years since we lost one of the most creative spirits our hobby has ever produced. Dave Bell left us on May 5, 2012. He spent a lifetime making people happy, making them smile, and each of us would stand in awe of his work. He was an artist, an illustrator, and a hot rodder of the highest measure.
For those of you who have been around this hobby for some time you will remember “Henry HiRise.” The unique artwork of Dave Bell was seen monthly on the pages of Street Rodder for some 40 years. With each new issue you would flip to the back of the book and begin looking at and reading Henry HiRise. It was often referred to as a “cartoon,” but the reality was it was the forerunner to social media. Henry HiRise was both a visual experience and one that you could read—yes you could read his artwork. There were all kinds of clever turns of a word or phrase. There were clues as to what was coming from a builder’s shop or what would show up at an event. His work had a visual impact but to truly enjoy it you had to read all the tidbits that filled every bit of open space. It was social media before there was social media. Dave was one of the original influencers.
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There was no one like him in our industry. He was an amazing illustrator and artist, but he was also a hot rodder who was in tune with what was going on. He had friends throughout the industry, which was a key to his insightfulness. He also had an ability that precious few individuals truly possess … he could work on a deadline, month after month, year after year. He and I would often talk about deadlines as each of us knew what the other was facing and what had to happen and when.
Dave’s artwork was as much a part of Street Rodder as any member of the staff. In fact, I would go so far as to say more people knew Dave’s work than that of any staff member back in the day. I spent a great deal of time working on the staff at Street Rodder and each month I looked forward to seeing what Dave came up with. We would speak each month about events, car features, what I had seen at the shops, what had I noticed during my travels, and what was in the next issue. Dave, as many staffers inherently do, would be percolating on ideas that he would use in the future. He was in a constant mode of gathering info. Never stopping. Always looking for what was cool so that he could bring it to the hot rod world in his own unique manner.
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His illustrations are truly exceptional works. I haven’t seen anyone in all my years who could do what he did. And he did it on a deadline that spanned some 40 years. Now, that’s talent and dedication. He was a regular at many events around the country, such as the LA Roadsters Father’s Day Show, Back to the 50’s, or you might see him at the Detroit Autorama or at countless weekend rod gatherings. Dave was a hot rodder who happened to possess a stunning amount of talent that he shared with all of us for years. I know I miss his abilities and those moments when I would “tear open” his latest effort. I would stare, then smile, then laugh, and then try to share it with as many people who I could stop in the hallways. Dave was truly a treasure in an industry that’s been blessed with many treasures. MR