New Mexico Art Tells its History

Customized Motorcycle

Customized Motorcycle with a 45-Cubic-Inch Flathead Engine, 1940
Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company
mixed media
Gift of Francis H. and Patricia N. Harlow, 2000

New Mexicans and interstate travelers of the 1930s held their automobiles, pickup trucks, motorcycles, and travel trailers in high regard—just as previous generations valued their horses and wagons. Travelers altered their automobiles so that seats could fold into beds and customized the saddlebags of their motorcycles to reflect a streamlined, chrome-plated view of the world. The chrome studs on the leather saddlebags of Frank Harlow’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Much of the popular culture of the 1930s reflected the hart times, automobile travel, inexpensive tourist courts, and mom-and-pop diners. In New Mexico, the transcontinental highway Route 66, which opened in 1926, brought travelers through the tourist corridor composed of Santa Fe, the pueblos along the Rio Grande, and Albuquerque. Commercial outlets in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Gallup continued to sell better-made Native arts, but the emphasis shifted to inexpensive items.

“Tourist traps” throughout the region masqueraded as “trading posts” and sold thousands of inexpensive, Indian-made bracelets, rings, and pins appropriate for tight travel budgets. Ironically, the souvenirs sold as trinkets to travelers did not raise the ire of the anthropologists and modernist artists as they had a decade earlier in the 1920s. Clearly, the hardships of the 1930s tempered the rejection of commercialization and calls for a return to the “authentic” styles of the past.

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