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The Wild Ones

July 25, 2012

Jeff Jeff writes: The Local History Services department recently took a group trip across the canal to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. We saw an interesting exhibit called Steel Ponies. It was a mix of motorcycle history, motorcycles IN art and motorcycles AS art. It was interesting to see how they blended the various aspects of the exhibit together. What I liked was that many of the patrons appeared to be motorcycle? geeks and not the usual art museum? geeks. Jeff hands the blog to Tamara …

TamaraTamara writes: I was particularly struck by the way the exhibit gave me a new perspective on an object I see almost every day. Thinking about the intersections of motorcycles with different types of culture makes me think about the way that objects and cultures can collide to form something extraordinary. I?m also thinking about how powerful it would be if museums explored those extraordinary combinations more often. I didn?t expect motorcycles to be thought provoking (I have to admit that I harbor a secret desire to own a big, shiny, bright red motorcycle) but they were. And now, to Stacy _

StacyStacy writes: I didn?t expect Steel Ponies to bring memories to the surface _ but that?s just what it did. My father had a Honda 300cc dirt bike, and we used to take weekend rides around the mountains of Colorado together. My dad and I didn?t generally have deep conversations, separated by a chasm of 40 years and gender, so traveling together with no real need to talk was quality daddy-daughter time. I felt a tiny bit of insight into my father a small-town boy from Iowa as the exhibit described how the motorcycle symbolizes freedom and adventure. I could imagine why, having fled the Midwest for New Mexico and then California, the motorcycle drew my father in. And he chose to share his motorcycle, his freedom and a few adventures with me. When we create exhibits, we don?t necessarily design or write for evoking memories, but they are a powerful (if uncontrollable) part of sharing history, art and discovery with visitors. And to Jeannette, for the final hand-off _

JeannetteJeannette writes: I loved how Steel Ponies captures the excitement of the open road, but I was particularly captivated by how the exhibit seamlessly created a collective history of people who are, and were, otherwise very diverse. Usually, when I visit the Eiteljorg, I tend to view things as categorically segregated: American Indian culture and art before European influence, the clash of cultures in the early West (depicted by both sides), contemporary Western art, and contemporary American Indian art (which often deals with the identity of American Indians today). Thus, the art of American Indians and the art of the American West always seem to me to be two very distinct things often overlapping in theme, but still coming from two extremely different perspectives. However, through the history of motorcycles in Steel Ponies, we seem to have found a commonality that bridges this gap it is something that unites every bike owner, no matter their cultural background. It is like the little wave that all motorcyclists give to one another on the road an acknowledgement that no matter who they are, they share this one thing that belongs to all of them equally.

Jeannette Rooney is the coordinator for Local History Services at IHS. She travels the state with her LHS team members to assist local history organizations. Why? Because history rocks (and we get to make lots of ice cream stops)!

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