Classic curves. Impeccable design. Discover Sculpted in Steel: Art Deco Automobiles and Motorcycles, 1929–1940 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. This exhibition features 17 American and international cars and motorcycles designed in an era when art and luxury reigned supreme. In the early 20th century, these vehicles were more than just means of transportation; they were symbols of a lifestyle defined by leisure and extravagance.
Sculpted in Steel comprises 14 cars and three motorcycles, on loan from renowned car collectors and museum collections, alongside vintage images and historical footage. This combination of vehicles, images, and footage showcases Art Deco design, the innovative machine-inspired style that developed between the two World Wars. During this period, automakers focused on streamlining cars with sleek, aerodynamic lines. The aircraft-inspired body styles feature grilles, hood ornaments, headlamps, and windows that were transformed through the use of chrome detailing.
Noted automobile expert Ken Gross worked with Cindi Strauss, the Museum’s curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design, on the selection for the exhibition. Among the highlights: a 1936 Stout Scarab, a 1937 Delahaye 135MS Roadster, and a 1930 Henderson KJ Streamline Motorcycle. The presentation runs from February 21 to May 30.
“The remarkable cars and motorcycles on view in Sculpted in Steel were crafted from the finest materials of the time,” Gross said. “They remain some of the most exciting, iconic, and refined designs of the 20th century.”
These iconic vehicles are the topic of much discussion and engaging events at the Museum this spring, from lectures, concerts, and happy hours to films, family activities, and a fashion show. One of the most-anticipated programs is a talk by prominent auto designer J Mays, former chief creative officer at Ford Motor Company. Cycling enthusiasts won’t want to miss DEFINE at the MFAH, where they can sculpt muscles of steel, sip complimentary coffee, and then view the exhibition. Happy Hour Thursdays celebrate Sculpted in Steel with a weekly rotation of antique cars from many time periods, plus specialty cocktails and beats from a local DJ.
Every Sunday, families can attend Family Zone+ Studio for programs like “Sleek and Stylish” and “Glamour and Elegance” that connect the exhibition with fun and entertaining activities, teaching all ages about the Art Deco movement. Storybook Circle features themes like “Go, Car, Go!” especially for families with young children.
Sculpted in Steel has also inspired the Wheels on Reels film series, with classic movies about memorable cars and their drivers. The schedule includes American Graffiti, Goldfinger, The Italian Job, The Love Bug, and the Houston premiere of Steve McQueen: The Man & “Le Mans.”
Rev up your engines, and get ready to be transported to an era where elegance defined design. Visit mfah.org/sculptedinsteel to learn more today!
Pictured: Bodywork by Figoni & Falaschi, Talbot-Lago, T150C‑SS Teardrop Coupe, 1938, collection of J. W. Marriott, Jr. Image © 2008 Peter Harholdt