When you visit the National Motorcycle Museum, you’ll find about 550 motorcycles displayed. Other than two very rare original condition bikes in showcases, there are no barriers, so you can really get up close and look at details.
But surrounding the bikes, covering every wall, in show cases, on plinths, even hung from the bar joists, are various forms of artwork. Why are they in the Museum? Because they show the motorcycles in action, in their original period environments. In fact, the very first thing you see as you enter the Museum is Jeff Decker’s full scale bronze sculpture of Joe Petrali on the Knucklehead powered semi-streamlined bike he set a land speed record with in 1937. Most agree the actual bike doesn’t exist any longer, but Decker’s art captures the action so you get the feel of that day on the beach, the sound, the jubilation at Joe’s accomplishment.
Graphic artists like David Uhl and Tom Fritz have work on display as well, and both are masters at bringing you into the history surrounding a street or racing scene with bikes from 80 to 100 years ago, and their riders, girl friends. Instead of padded leathers and high tech helmets from space age materials, we are reminded through this fine art that board track racers and hillclimbers wore knit wool jerseys and minimal leather helmets.
Today’s motorcycle manufacturers mandate certain architecture for dealerships. Just off interstates, they are glass, stucco and brick, and sometimes huge in scale to promote the brand. In old photos at the Museum you’ll be reminded of small, poorly lit bike repair shops with wood floors that are no more than 40 foot wide downtown store fronts. Just past the Harley-Davidson area of the Museum, period showcases filled with original parts and accessories and their cardboard displays and packaging help to illustrate the old shop feeling.
Sometimes those quaint motorcycle shops from 100 years ago are backdrops for great panorama photos often with 80 to 120 riders from a local club. The bikes are proudly lined up at the curb waiting for the photographer to sweep past the wide grouping, run his amazing panorama camera. Such photos are in easy view at the Museum so you can look at rider attire and the details of their bikes from the ‘teens or ‘twenty’s.
If you counted them all, there are easily more than 500 pieces of factory advertising art, posters, brochures that not only show interesting logos as art, but also great illustration putting products out there proudly, in all their glory. At one time or another most of us have been taken in by these promotional devices, and our lust has built for that new Norton, Honda or Harley-Davidson or sparkling Schwinn bicycle.
So that’s just a quick scan of the expressive artwork at the National Motorcycle Museum. There is so much more as you’ll be reminded on your next visit. Too cold and snowy to get out on your bike? Plan a trip to the Museum for this winter, a great place to visit with family and friends. Learn more at https://nationalmcmuseum.org/plan-a-visit/, and be sure to take a look at our five minute Museum Tour Video.