June 26, 2018

Driver's Ed

        This week my children are taking their driver’s ed classes, so I thought I’d share my series of block prints of vintage cars.  I’m not much of a fan of ordinary everyday cars on the roads, and I’d generally prefer not to drive if I can avoid it.  Nevertheless, I’m certainly grateful for the ability to drive, for the luxury of owning a car, and for the flexibility and opportunities that driving gives me.  In the past few years I’ve been in that chauffeur stage of life wherein much of my existence seems to revolve around taking children to and from their various activities which, between distance, timing, weather, equipment, and other logistical factors can be done by foot or bicycle far less often than I’d hoped.
        So, why does an artist with a less than rosy view of driving make a series of prints on cars?  Because while I don’t like the cars around me on the road or taking up all the spaces in the parking lot, I have always liked antique cars.  I’m not sure I can entirely explain why, but I think many of them are beautiful, and, (as is the case with the steampunk aesthetic), they simultaneously show off their practical workings and are crafted with an eye for art.  They're also interesting symbols of their historical eras.  I’ve enjoyed them since I was young, so I wanted to do a series celebrating that very early era of the automobile.
        My organizing principle was to choose a car from each decade from the 1890s through the 1930s.  (After that my enthusiasm wanes, and from the 1960s on I stop caring completely.)  As a Cleveland girl, I began with the Winton Motor Carriage Company, pioneers in American car manufacturing.  I’ve posted the 1898 Winton Phaeton in this blog elsewhere, so we’ll move straight on to the Ford Model T Touring from 1908, the first year that Ford began manufacturing cars by production line.  This is red because that’s what color the Touring style was; it was not until 1914 that all Model T’s were black.
        The Model T’s were of course famous for making cars affordable for the working classes, but that doesn’t mean the super-wealthy would be content with a car like that.  My 1914 Locomobile print is a Model 38 Berline, of which only one still remains.  It has no expense spared, including Tiffany lamps.  It’s also huge.  I complain bitterly about today’s SUVs, but this was much, much worse!
        For the 1920s I confess that what I initially wanted was a 1927 Daimler Double-Six as favored by Lord Peter Wimsey.  However, after long searching I never could find any photographs of the right model, so I eventually decided to represent another interesting facet of the early automobile industry instead.  The Milburn Light Electric was a popular car, especially marketed for women as being cleaner, quieter, and easier to use than a gasoline car.  Note that the driver sits in the back seat of this Winton model, with curtains at the windows!  My 1922 car, sadly, is one of the last of the electric cars for almost a century.  I’m thrilled that electric cars are finally coming back, far better than before.  And perhaps when self-driving cars take over the roads, the “drivers” will once again sit in the back seat with curtains at the windows.
        And finally, the 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster.  Another luxury car, this was not only a thing of beauty, but included in every vehicle was a plaque certifying that it had been driven at 100mph.  Its timing, however, was abysmal.  No amount of power or beauty could compensate for the fact that the speedster was just too expensive for buyers during the Great Depression.
        So there’s my paean to cars as my children take their first steps towards mastering these metal monsters.  Like any parent I’ll be terrified for them as they begin driving, but I’m also excited about a new world opening up for them.

[Pictures: 1908 Ford Model T Touring, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007;
1914 Locomobile Model 38 Berline, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007;
1922 Milburn Light Electric, rubber block print by AEGN, 2012;
1935 Auburn 851 Speedster, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007.]

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