March 09, 2012

Steel Ponies at the Eiteljorg

Steel Ponies thunder into EiteljorgSo, you’ve watched American Pickers and American Choppers a few times and you think you know a thing or two about “knuckleheads.” Maybe you spent hours searching your mom’s attic for your old Evel Knievel wind-up stunt-cycle toy. Or maybe you’re an old anti-establishment hippie and your poison is Easy Rider. Fear not, you can get your fix at the Eiteljorg Museum Of American Indians And Western Art. The museum’s newest exhibition, Steel Ponies, showcases the artistry, history, and culture of motorcycles in the American West and Native America.The Native aspects:Some of the coolest bikes are in a section of the exhibition called “Native American Appropriation and Pride.” Taking pride in his Lakota Sioux heritage, Troy Vargas of Lakota Choppers custom-built a chopper called Great Spirit, using materials such as hide, wood, and stone in his creation. Sharing his vision of the Great Spirit (Wankan Tanka), the most striking feature of the bike is the colorful headdress encircling the gas tank. “Do you see the feathers?” James asks. “They look real, don’t they? They’re metal!” We’re stunned at the artistry in this chopper—and the exhibition itself.The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art’s Steel Ponies Exhibit makes the point that in many cases, motorcycles replaced the horse in Western culture. Many brands co-opted Indian names for their models—the Chief, the Princess and the Scout are examples the website uses.

“Say what you will about the stereotypical imagery or the fashion in which Indians promoted their products, there are still Indian people . . . who love and ride Indian motorcycles,” said White Wolf James, a Pomo Cherokee who hails from Mendocino County, California to

James is the Eiteljorg’s assistant curator of Native American art, history and culture. He told that the exhibit is about the intersection between American Indian culture and the emergence of the motorcycle in the 20th century as an iconic means of self-expression.

Featured in the exhibit will be bikes such as the bike built by Troy Vargas of Lakota Choppers that incorporates hide, wood and stone, or the board-track racer built by Daniel Sanchez, Apache, that will be unveiled at the exhibit. Sanchez will be at the museum on April 14.
Comment:  Give these articles credit for not gushing about the well-known Indian Motorcycle brand.

Note: A person could be a Pomo/Cherokee Indian, but not a Pomo Cherokee.

For a previous Eiteljorg exhibit, see Black/Red: Related Through History.

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