By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jun 07, 2024 at 1:01 PM

Sixteen years into the life of the Harley-Davidson Museum, curatorial staff continues to create interesting exhibitions from the motorcycle company’s astonishingly vast archive without ever seeming to repeat itself.

For example, the new “Creating a Legend: Art & Engineering at Harley-Davidson,” which is now open and runs into 2027.

Sure, it has some cool motorcycles – like the Brooks Stevens-designed 1949 Hydra-Glide – but there is also a wealth of interesting non-Hog stuff in the show.

“This exhibit looks at the intersection of art and engineering here at Harley-Davidson and how it's been part of our DNA since the very beginning,” says Exhibits and Curatorial Lead Ann Sinfield. ”We do that in a couple different ways with some historic stories.

“We're taking three different motorcycles from our history and looking at the people who made them and talking a little bit more about the people who made them. We're looking at contemporary product and thinking about the collaborative process of art and design and the different materials that are used in that process of designing motorcycles. And then we've got a hands-on area here for guests to be creative on their own way.”

The new exhibition isn’t huge, but as always, the H-D Museum team packs the space with a lot of detail, a lot of interesting background information, photos, artifacts and more.

Here are five of those artifacts ... and not one of them is a motorcycle...

“One Hundred Years of Motorcycling” painting

Scott Jacobs paintingX

“This is a painting that was commissioned for the 100th anniversary in 2003 by Harley-Davidson,” says Sinfield. “Willie G. (Davidson) worked with Scott Jacobs, the artist, and gave art direction to him; helped pick out the bikes (included). It is a look at the history of design at Harley-Davidson basically, and Willie G's vision of the iconic motorcycles from our past.

"This is a widely produced painting. This is the original, but we just had some dealers in this weekend and all of them were like, ’Hey, we have that at our dealership’.”

Artwork by Harley designers William Harley and Willie G. Davidson

William Harley ducksX

“William Harley was the first chief engineer for the company, one of the four founders, an engineering graduate of UW Madison. He's been granted patents, he designed engines, he designed motorcycles. He was also a member of the Milwaukee Men's Sketch Club, which was a group of men that got together and regularly sketched en plein air, painted, went to art shows, listened to talks, had connections with galleries and museums across the city. He was also an avid outdoorsman. He did wildlife drawings – mostly waterfowl, ducks and geese, some seagulls. One has rabbits and grouse and all kinds of different animals. They're really charming and unexpected. Harley didn't write a lot, he didn't give speeches a lot, so there's not a lot of written material that comes directly from him. So this gives some personal insight, which is pretty interesting to me and really surprising.

Willie G. watercolorsX

“You can't talk about design and Harley-Davidson without mentioning Willie G., a grandson of one of the founders. His father was the president of the company for a while. He and his dad decided to bring design in-house in 1963. So he led the design efforts (and) pretty much had the last word on how everything looked for almost 50 years in the company – a really important figure. Willie has also been a watercolorist, a painter his entire life and he still paints. Willie generously lent us some watercolors to show and also was willing to part with some of his art supplies. The art supplies you see on display here are actually things from Willie's studio.”

Hands-on tracing station


“We wanted to bring in the option for guests to try their hand and put a pencil to paper. That creative effort is just so much a part of what we do, and so we've got these drawing tables with silhouettes of all of the motorcycles that are in this exhibit, and people can either trace them, draw their own, or piece their own motorcycle together out of parts of each.

“Then we have a space for them to display their work. There's drawings here from people of all different abilities and from all over the world. There's some kids' scribbling, there's somebody from Brazil here. It's just been really fun to come through every day and see what people leave, and there's some amazing things.”

Clay models

clay modelsX

“Clay is an important part of motorcycle design,” says Sinfield, “because it allows the designers to see the three-dimensional form in space. There's a lot of VR design happening now, a lot of things on the computer, but it's still important to see the physical thing and to be able to walk around it and get the emotional impact of that physical form. Clay is ideal for that for a lot of reasons. It's pretty fast and it is changeable. They can walk around (a model) and make changes as they're talking.

“These same clay tools have been around for hundreds of years, and we're still using them in motorcycle plans. What we've got here are clay scale models. These are mockups for the designers to consult, discuss, throw out some ideas and think about the direction they want to go. So for everything from the electric motorcycle to the latest Pan Am adventure tour motorcycle, we're still using clay.”

2021 Sportster S mockup

Sportster S mockupX

“The Sportster S that we've got here is not a motorcycle,” says Sinfield, even though it sure looks like one. “I would not suggest hopping on this bike. This is basically an entire mockup. It's a plastic bike, basically, that can be used at trade fairs or at different conferences or different meetings where they're talking about the bikes that are coming out but that are not yet manufactured.”

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.