Patti Wenzel

Helmets as art at the Harley-Davidson Museum

By - Oct 22nd, 2009 08:59 am
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Photo by Patti Wenzel

Photo by Patti Wenzel

A motorcycle helmet can be a cocoon of safety or repression. It can also be a work of art that symbolizes either of the two as in the hard shell of an armadillo, a brick and chain tying one down or the warm surroundings of home.

Such helmet representations, plus many more will be on display at the Harley-Davidson Museum in a joint installation between the museum and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD).  Jim Fricke, museum curator, worked closely with professors at the school to come up with a project that uniquely blends art, design and an iconic American brand.

“’The Helmet Project’ was expressly developed to create an ambitious college-wide project focusing on art and design — skills that are very important to Harley-Davidson,” Fricke said. “Our rewarding partnership with MIAD has resulted in an exhibition that is informative, bold and fun and will interest fans of art and design, history, motorcycling and pop culture. ”

Professors and students in MIAD’s Sculpture, Integrated Studio Arts and Industrial Design programs were challenged to look at the helmet and its place in history and culture. Their vision and interpretation of the helmet led to more than 40 designs, which were juried by Fricke; Michael Davidson, an artist, design consultant and great-grandson of Harley-Davidson Motorcyle Co. co-founder William A. Davidson; and James Donnelly, designer and principal of Milwaukee’s The Design Office.  The exhibit will feature 19 installations by MIAD students, including a dirt-and-video helmet, a welded-steel, head-shaped cage, and three, clear vinyl helmets that let viewers look into and through them.

Photo by Patti Wenzel

Photo by Patti Wenzel

Lisa Chen, a senior MIAD student from Taiwan, fashioned the vinyl helmets. She examined them from the viewpoint of riders who only wear them out of necessity. By using clear vinyl, Chen reasoned that while the helmet is there physically, its transparency allows people the freedom to see out or into it (maybe even into the mind) without obscurement.

In addition to the art pieces, MIAD students designed the exhibit layout in the gallery and promotional materials. Amanda Koch led fellow Industrial Architecture and Design students in the creation and construction of the installation for the artists’ works. “This project gave me the opportunity to work as a project manager directing others,” Koch explained. “We had to interface with a real client, and it feels like I am standing in my own model.”

While Koch and her colleagues envisioned the flow of the space, students in the Communication Design program added graphic touches to the walls with sunbursts and retro-inspired scenes of Harley riders. Other students created graphic depictions of helmets based on their personal histories, the perceived needs of riders and advances in technology. The entire room is filled with student-imagined and created designs.

To round out the exhibit, Harley unveiled 19 cases of vintage and modern-day helmets. These helmets run the gamut from thin silk caps worn by the first Hog riders to those made with the latest technological advances in safety and comfort. Fricke added helmets from other sport genres, too, to demonstrate that the protective qualities span from bicycling to baseball.

Exhibit visitors can try their hand at helmet design in the HeadDress activity area. Velcro, whiteboard, blackboard and Styrofoam helmets will be available for participants to decorate, try-on and model, taking inspiration from the design students’ work. Children can also create helmets in the “Doodle your Noodle” area and take their creations home.

The Helmet Project opens Friday, Oct. 23, and runs through Sunday, Nov. 8, at the Harley-Davidson Museum Garage. For more information visit the Harley-Davidson Museum website or call 877-436-8738.

0 thoughts on “Helmets as art at the Harley-Davidson Museum”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Nice article, but just wondering why there was no credit given to the artists who created the helmets featured in this piece, save for Lisa Chen?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, Lisa was the only artist available when I toured the exhibit set up and we had some quirkiness with our program that wouldn’t let me load the captions. Sorry!

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