From a Purr to a Roar: Lowriders Speak


Chris Martinez in his lowrider. Photo by Don Usner.

Chris Martinez in his lowrider. Photo by Don Usner.

When Lowriders, Hoppers and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico opens in our second-floor Herzstein Gallery on May 1, visitors will get a chance to hear the story of the lowrider lifestyle directly from the practitioners themselves. Photo Curator Daniel Kosharek enlisted the help of 19th– and 20th-Century Southwest Curator Meredith Davidson to interview a host of lowriders from Las Vegas, Chimayó, Española, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

Davidson, who honed her oral-history chops while working for the 9-11 Memorial Museum in New York City, then edited down the results into a 45-minute video loop that will play on iPads placed throughout the exhibit.

“I think it’s important that the lowriders tell their own stories,” Kosharek said. “If I were to go to an exhibit like this somewhere, I would want to get inside the culture, not have the museum put a level of interpretation onto it.”

Interviewees include mechanics, detailers, upholsterers, and classic car owners with names well-known in the lowrider community: Johnnie Martinez, Rob Vanderslice, Robert Eckert, Pam Trujillo and more.

“They all love to talk about cars and their processes,” Kosharek said.

“One of the most moving aspects of the interviews,” Davidson said, “was hearing deeply personal stories around family relationships and cars. That was most apparent with Eppie Martinez (of Chimayó). When he was 15, he inherited his father’s beloved 1953 Bel Air, which he outfitted with hydraulics without his father’s knowledge. He was caught bouncing the car one afternoon, and the car he had come to love was quickly taken away. He hadn’t touched it for 30 years.”

Thanks to our exhibition, Eppie, who now helps organize lowrider shows, is working with his dad to fix up the Bel Air.

“I’m excited,” he told Davidson. “I can’t wait to get back in the driver’s seat.”

Davidson credited Kosharek and photographer Don Usner, who’s helping curate the exhibit, for ensuring that it welcomes visitors into an exploration of the diverse history of New Mexico lowriders.

“I hope,” she said, “that these voices are in some way a reminder that behind each lowrider, hopper or hot rod, there is a person, a family, a community, and a history that is completely unique to that car.”