Wheel life: Saratoga exhibit shows social, historic context of motorcycles and riders

The Saratoga Automobile Museum doesn't just show cars, it shows how those machines have played a role in the shaping of our society and history.

The last thing we want to do is preach to the converted, said executive director

Steve Potter, noting that people who want to see distinct automobiles will come to the museum anyway.

By putting the cars and motorcycles in a social context, they not only educate their existing patrons, but also bring in a crowd that may be more interested in history than the metallic works of art.

Potter said the museum was able to really blend automobiles and their impact in a recent exhibit of the art of Florida's folk artists. For more than two months the Saratoga Automobile Museum was host to 66 paintings from primarily self-taught, young black artists who prospered in the segregated South of the 1950s and 1960s. Instead of picking fruit " often the only employment for a young African-American at the time " the artists decided to pile their paintings into the trunks of the boat-like Cadillacs and Plymouths of the era and sell them door to door. They rode the highways, Potter said, stopping in small towns and carrying their paintings around to motels, banks and doctors' offices somehow escaping scrutiny from the local police and public.

"You know, there is not a single car that appears in any of those paintings," said Potter, "but the automobile was what made selling their artwork possible. We were able to make people aware of an important aspect of civil rights history and the roles that the automobile played in it."

Assorted '50s and '60s road cruisers accompanied the artwork, which appeared outside of Florida for the first time in Saratoga.

The museum is once again marrying the art and the impact of the automobile with an exhibit of motorcycles that will run through this summer. "Born 2 Ride " America on 2 Wheels" opened March 18 and will run through the Americade weekend in June.

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