Area resident spends decades collecting and creating automotive art

BIG RAPIDS — Some pursuits last a lifetime. Area resident Jack Juratovic spent his career working first as an automotive designer and later as an automotive artist and founder of a fine arts society dedicated to the art of the automobile.

In his years in the industry, Juratovic has built up quite an impressive collection of train and automobile art.

The walls of Juratovic’s home, where he has lived for the past eight years, are lined with sketches, watercolor images, advertising prints and countless other pieces of memorabilia. Each room is adorned with art, and several feature piles of boxes of unmounted work.

Juratovic graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1965 and took a job as a designer with Ford, where he would meet some of the artists who would eventually help him found the Automotive Fine Arts Society. Juratovic said he was “not corporate enough” for the job, and was eventually let go because of it.

“As far as I’m concerned, I contributed, but I wasn’t really serious all the time – I took my job seriously, but I didn’t take myself too seriously,” he said.

Being fired from Ford, in hindsight, was one of the best things that could have happened, Juratovic said.

“Back then they let you go, they didn’t really fire you. They gave you a whole bunch of money,” he said. “At that time, I was driving a Jaguar XKE. I went racing for the summer – I cut the windshield off the Jaguar and just went racing.”

The experience of racing cars was exhilarating and eye opening, Juratovic said.

“I always thought I was one of the best drivers ever. The first thing you find out in driver’s school is you don’t even know how to drive,” he said. “When you go to driver’s school and you’ve got a guy driving you in your car – you know what it can do, or what you’ve made it do – and he’s doing stuff that scares the bejeezus out of you, it’s a real awakening. It’s humbling.”

After his severance from Ford ran out, Juratovic took a position as a designer with Chrysler. Once again, he found he was not a fit for the corporate lifestyle.  He then started working for a job shop, a facility which creates custom items to fit a specific buyer’s desires.

“I got energized. When you work for a job shop, they rely on you to do something. Your natural instincts, training and abilities kick in and you realize, ‘Wow. I can really do this,’” he said. “I was going out, meeting with clients, putting prototypes together and going to shops. What I was doing was learning the business.”

After working for his first job shop, Juratovic took a position with a prestigious firm, William Schmidt and Assosciates, working for clients like Triumph Motorcycles and U.S. Steel. When downsizing meant Juratovic, then a childless bachelor, was laid off from the company, he started his own business with a college friend creating aesthetic additions.

“We started making spoilers for Camaros,” he said. “We were the first company to market dress up stuff for the smaller cars that were coming out. All of the muscle cars were going away because the feds were mandating safety bumpers, emission controls and gas mileage. ”

Juratovic’s passion for cars eventually led him to help found the Automotive Fine Arts Society. The society was the first official group of automotive artists. The group hosted shows and released a journal which Juratovic would help publish and edit for years.

“I was involved in the first Meadow Brook Concours D’Elegance Art Show. By happenstance, one of the other guys in it was an old Ford design buddy who had gone to California and was making a living doing automotive art,” he said. “There were about 10 of us there at that first show. We decided there that this was a pretty good thing – Meadow Brook was one of the big shows back then for classic cars. We decided we had something in common and that we should try to establish something, a guild sort of, that’s where the Automotive Fine Arts Society was born.”

The Automotive Fine Arts Society celebrated its 30th show at Pebble Beach Florida last summer. The show, sponsored by Lincoln, is frequently attended by Edsel Ford II and car enthusiasts of all ages, Juratovic said.

“It’s the premier car show in North America and probably the world,” he said.

The neatest parts about working in automotive art are the people and places, Juratovic said, recalling an instance where he met designer Carol Shelby.

“A legend, sitting right there, and you know what he was (talking) about? He said, ‘Yeah, they want me to go up to Chrysler – they got them a big V10 up there and they want me to stuff it in a sports car,’ and that was the Viper project.

“Where else are you going to have a life like that?” he asked. “That would be like a writer walking into a saloon someplace and there’s Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald sitting around having an argument and calling you over to talk.”

After the death of his wife, Jan, Juratovic moved to Big Rapids to be closer to his grandchildren. His youngest daughter and her husband met while attending Ferris State University – he was an optician and she was in hotel and restaurant management. The pair had four boys, all very involved in sports, the eldest playing football for Northwood University. Juratovic said he is part of all of his grandchildren’s lives, even acting as a coach for the youngest two’s baseball team.

“I’m a helper really, not the main coach,” he said. “They call me Coach Pop.”