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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Cross-country riders take a break along the old Lincoln Highway in Nevada. (photo: Troy Chitchlow)

In Arts & Entertainment

Wanderlust.

New Harley-Davidson Museum exhibit celebrates road trips, evokes wanderlust


Anyone who appreciates vintage travel trailers, retro motel signage, roadside attractions, postcards, wanderlust and, of course, motorcycles, the new exhibit at the Harley-Davidson Museum is a must see.

Last week, "The American Road" opened in the museum and will remain on display through Sept. 1.

The exhibit takes visitors on a journey of the quintessential American road trip from 1930 to what it has come to represent in pop culture today. Through hundreds of artifacts and personal stories, visitors are reminded of how Americana and traveling the open road are essential parts for creating a truly American experience.

The American Road tells the story of how road systems, along with other major historical events, inspired and encouraged people to pack up and see America. These trips happened in automobiles, RVs and on motorcycles, signifying the essence of American culture and Harley-Davidson's culture.

"Nearly everyone has a fond memory of exploring the country with family and friends," said Bill Davidson, vice president of the Harley-Davison Museum. "The American Road speaks to these memories and enjoying the freedom and independence that accompanies the journey and adventure."

The exhibit – which is divided into three parts – features photographs, film footage, slide shows and countless pieces of vintage travel memorabilia that depict the evolution of the road-travel landscape in the United States.

The first gallery, "The birth of leisure travel," is set in the 1930s and shows the early stages of American families hitting the road for family vacations.

Originally, their destinations focused on nature and visiting places such as the National Park, but as roadside businesses evolved, the road trip itself became the excursion.

A late-1930s house car designed by American industrial designer and Milwaukee native Brooks Stevens is on display, as well as models for trailers and other highlights of design for the time.

The second gallery, called The "Golden Era" of Travel, takes place in the post-World War II era when more Americans than ever owned cars and took road trips. During this time, highway restaurants, service stations and motels popped up all over the country.

On display are a 1962 Ford Country Squire station wagon, a fully functional, mid-1950s 11-foot-tall Siesta Motel neon sign from Saugus, Mass., and the head of an approximately twenty-foot-tall "Muffler Man" fiberglass statue manufactured in the 1960s.

Finally, the third gallery, called "The road trip in the modern-era," introduces visitors to people whose lives are inspired by the American road and reflects the fundamentals of this American experience.

Their stories are told through artwork and depict historic routes like the Lincoln Highway and Route 66. The display includes a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu outfitted with original artwork from the renowned artist and cartographer Bob Waldmire and photography by Jeff Kunkle, co-founder of Vintage Roadside.

The American Road runs through Sept. 1, and the exhibit is included with the purchase of general museum admission – adults: $18; children (5-17 years): $10; children (under 5): free with adult admission; seniors (65+), military and students (with ID): $12.


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