Marquette Wire

Hog heaven

faiza.yunus@marquette.edu

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Harley lovers from around the world are turning their attention — and wheels — toward Milwaukee this week, and both museums are expecting heavy turnouts from people anxious to learn about the origins of the company that put them in hog heaven. Each museum focuses on a particular aspect of Harley-Davidson’s history. While the Milwaukee Art Museum looks more at the company’s stylistic history, the Eisner is more centered on tracing the evolution of Harley advertisements.

From now until Sept. 14, Harleys from all decades of the company’s existence will grace the floors of the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr. The 14 motorcycles, featured in the “Rolling Sculptures: The Art of Harley-Davidson” exhibit, are on loan from Harley-Davidson and range from a classic clay model, to a 1933 model, to one of the current 2003 models.

Glenn Adamson, assistant curator for the event, is confident that the various models will attract visitors, but he especially thinks people will be drawn to this exhibit because of the overall atmosphere that the building provides with Lake Michigan as the viewing background.

“It’s a gorgeous way to view (the motorcycles) with the light and lake in the background,” Adamson said. “The bike does as much for the building as the building does for the bike.”

One thing the building does for the bike is offer an explanation of Harley-Davidson’s stylistic history. Despite the addition of two founding fathers, Walter Davidson in 1903 and William Davidson in 1907, the motorcycle’s designs never became a big issue until 1963 when Willie G. Davidson joined his grandfather’s company and later went on to become Harley-Davidson’s senior vice-president as well as the chief styling officer.

Style is definitely something that the museum understands well, as the entire wing of Harleys is decorated to commemorate the company’s individuality. Three ribs of the Baumgartner Galleria are painted orange every few steps and a glass display in the center of the exhibit offers a break from “Harley-gazing” and showcases the many Harley-Davidson anniversary logos that were in consideration, as well as color and tank graphics. For the motorcycle fanatic, the museum also dedicates space to exploring the evolution of Harley-Davidson’s consoles, engine valve covers and air cleaner covers.

According to Adamson, his excitement for the display is well shared, as museum attendance has been steadily increasing by 200 people daily. Adamson said the museum is expecting 15,000 people daily this week during Harley-Davidson’s celebration activities, which include a parade, a celebration party and, of course, the ride home. Normally, the museum gets 1,200-1,500 visitors daily.

While the Milwaukee Art Museum allows visitors to drool over motorcycles and admire their forms, the William F. Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design, 208 N. Water St., is focusing on the company’s design in a different way — by taking a closer look at the evolution of Harley-Davidson’s advertisements.

According to Chuck Sable, curator for the Eisner, the exhibit “integrates (Harley-Davidson) into culture and (uses) it as a backdrop for American culture.” Sable said one of his main goals was to examine how Harley-Davidson’s culture has changed over the past 100 years and to explore the company’s “mystique.”

From now until May 2004, visitors will be greeted with a hanging version of the famous Harley-Davidson logo as they enter the exhibit room. The exhibit is chronologically divided into six stages, each examining historical moments in both the company and the United States and linking them with the way the company advertised at that time.

The Eisner exhibit appears to be overwhelming, as the maze-like structure leads to new information presented in Harley-Davidson’s signature orange color at every angle. Though the presentation may seem intense, it is definitely attractive and informative since three years went into the planning, according to Sable.

“No pun intended, we thought, ‘Let’s do it whole hog,'” Sable said.

All of the ads featured are digital reproductions of ads in Harley-Davidson’s archives. The five motorcycles, however, are all on loan from private collectors (with the exception of a 2003 model borrowed from Harley-Davidson), and are also part of the reason the event required such extensive planning.

Sable hopes visitors will not only learn about the company’s history through the exhibit, but also learn about the cultural impact Harley-Davidson has made around the world.

“The brand ID is one of the strongest brands out there,” Sable said. “If people want to learn about what the culture is, then our show will sum it up.”

Sable is expecting a large turnout for this event, as the museum is “physically so close to the activities.”

While the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Eisner are commemorating Harley-Davidson’s centennial in different ways, both Adamson and Sable agree that in addition to Harley-Davidson’s economic impact on the city, it is definitive of Milwaukee’s identity and is undoubtedly the heart of the city.

“Harley-Davidson reflects the industrial ethic that is Milwaukee,” Sable said. “It’s one of the few survivors and is a success story (for the city).”

According to Adamson, Harley-Davidson is “intrinsic to Milwaukee’s personality” in that it makes the city appear to be “a more edgy, interesting place.”

“It saves us from being Toledo,” Adamson said.

Harley-Davidson’s appeal is expected to draw about 150,000 Harley devotees from all over the world for this week’s ticketed festivities and over 200,000 for the company’s final party, according to Keri Hanson, a public relations assistant for the Greater Milwaukee Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In fact, 320 people from Japan rented a jumbo jet and flew into Milwaukee specifically for the celebrations, while participants from Australia and New Zealand have shipped their bikes to Milwaukee, according to information obtained from the GMCVB.

In addition to tourists, the festivities are expected to rake in $132 million for Wisconsin, with $37 million going to Greater Milwaukee.

“We’re in newspapers all over the world,” said Vanessa Welter, director of public relations for the GMCVB. “You cannot buy that kind of advertising.”

With all the national and international attention Harley-Davidson’s 100th anniversary is drawing to Milwaukee, as well as revenue, it’s no wonder that Milwaukeeans are hoping Harley-Davidson has a long future ahead of it.

Its history certainly has withstood a lot, including survival from an economic depression, supplying motorcycles in two world wars, international competition, a merger with the American Machine and Foundry Company in 1969 and a buy-back 12 years later.

Through it all, Harley-Davidson has maintained the status it gained back in 1920: that of the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.

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