Through Sept. 7, the HUB-Robeson Galleries at Penn State will host “The Art & History of Bicycles,” an exhibition that offers the opportunity to gaze at the engineering marvels of the most unique bicycles ever created and learn more about the fascinating past of these human-powered, two-wheeled transportation methods.
From the historical and one-of-a-kind to the downright bizarre, “The Art & History of Bicycles” features an array of bikes from collector Bob Swaim. After learning how to ride a bike when he was 5 years old, the retired teacher has since spent years accumulating a variety of bicycles that he takes from venue to venue in a 24-foot trailer. After pedaling in a handful of Penn State Homecoming parades and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Swaim said he’s thrilled to be showcasing the gems of his collection with State College.
“While this is my first art show with my bikes, I have been showing them off at different colleges, museums and other places for a while now,” Swaim said. “I’m really excited about the show at Penn State because the bikes on display will be serving as pieces of interactive, functional art. I want to introduce a sort of art that isn’t simply just a painting on a wall.”
“A few years ago we worked with Bob to put on a single-day exhibition focusing on the history of the Slinky, during which he told us all about his bicycle collection,” said Maria Rogus, the gallery publicity coordinator. “His passion and excitement for the bikes really shone through and we began working with Bob to put together this exhibit. We’re not just an art gallery here, and we really strive to bring in a wide variety of exhibits. Bob’s bicycles are a really great intersection of art, engineering and history.”
In addition to Swaim’s collection, the exhibition includes photographs and sculptures that detail the intricacies that accompany each bike. The talents of Thomas Fainor, Ben Bowden, Eric Staller and others are on full display at the HUB-Robeson Galleries, sharing a different take on the two-wheeled machines that hold a place in the hearts of so many people.
“Aside from the obvious telling of the evolution of bicycles, the individual pieces in this exhibition each tell their own stories,” Rogus said. “Chipped or fading paint and small scratches tell the story of a well-loved bicycle. The Reverse-Steering Bike that is on display has seen its fair share of tumbles and falls from eager riders and has the scars to prove it. This exhibit can help shift the way that people think of bicycles — changing the idea of a bicycle as transportation to the idea of a bicycle as art.”
Swaim said there’s also an art to putting the actual show together.
“The spacing and configuring of the pieces really requires a lot of work and creativity,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to see how everything in the gallery came together.”
Of course, visitors don’t have to have won a yellow jersey in France to enjoy this exhibition. Whether you still have your training wheels on or are a road warrior decked out in reflective gear, “The Art & History of Bicycles” has something for everyone to appreciate.
“This exhibition is unique because it easily reaches a wide range of people,” Rogus said. “I believe that a lot of our visitors will have had experience with bicycles to some degree or another and that really personalizes the exhibition and brings back those memories of being a kid cruising the neighborhood with your friends, putting a card in your spokes or learning — successfully or not — how to ride.”
The old adage of “art being everywhere” can be applied to this exhibition and those questioning why an art gallery would be hosting a show featuring bicycles. Although bikes are used to get from point A to point B, that doesn’t mean that someone has to abide to the austere definition of “transportation device” only. Like the artisan trends that have infiltrated their way to coffee shops, restaurants, bars and home stores, there is now a craft culture of cycling.
“Art surrounds us every day and even something as utilitarian as a bicycle is worthy of artistic consideration,” Rogus said. “I think it’s important for people to develop the skill to take a step back and look at things beyond what they are or what they do and instead appreciate the aesthetics and finely tuned details.”
With the 200th anniversary of the first ever ride on a Draisine (the earliest known ancestor to the bicycle) fast approaching on July 12, “The Art & History of Bicycles” is an ideal way to celebrate that milestone and learn even more about the people and stories behind the grand American pastime of the bicycle.
IF YOU GO
- What: “The Art & History of Bicycles”
- When: through Sept. 7
- Where: Hub-Robeson Galleries
- Info: studentaffairs.psu.edu/hub/artgalleries