By Barbara Clark / Contributing Writer
Posted Sep 19, 2019 at 6:00 AM
The Cultural Center of Cape Cod’s “Art on Two Wheels” exhibit includes rare, vintage and custom Harley-Davidson racing motorcycles.
Art appears in an uncommon guise when the Cultural Center of Cape Cod departs from more “traditional” forms to present “Art on Two Wheels.” The large exhibit, on display Saturday through Nov. 27, will include rare, vintage and custom Harley-Davidson racing motorcycles, plus related art and memorabilia.
“We’ve hosted hundreds of amazing exhibits since we opened in 2007, including ... every kind of art you can imagine, but this one will take the cake,” said Robert Nash, the center’s executive director in announcing the exhibit.
Nash describes the more than 40 motorcycles that will be on exhibit as “beautiful examples of ingenuity, artistic design and America’s love of the open road.”
The rare and vintage machines – all but one a Harley – are from the collection of Cape Cod resident David McGraw, who, according to information on the exhibit, has worked for decades “to acquire and restore iconic Harleys and other fine machines.” He owns close to 75 of the classic motorcycles.
Lauren Wolk, center associate director, said in a phone interview that center officials learned about his collection through the McGraw family, known to the center as supporters of the local arts community. “One of (David McGraw’s) dreams,” says Wolk, “has been to share what he’s collected. ... Now he gets to share his passion.”
Years ago, as he began his quest to find the classic vehicles, McGraw narrowed his specialty to racing machines. Describing his avid interest, he explained in the exhibit announcement that Harley race bikes “have a history and they’re hard to find.” Most don’t survive their hard life and end up being discarded, he says.
McGraw can take as long as six years to complete one restoration, Wolk says. Some of the acquisitions come to him literally as “basket cases” – just a basket of parts with maybe a frame and other spare pieces. He then has to “see what’s missing and go out and find it,” she says, fitting his finds together like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. As a dedicated collector, he doesn’t use reproduction parts – only those that are original to each particular machine.
If you go What: “Art on Two Wheels” When: Saturday through Nov. 24 (a Friday opening reception, “Leather and Lace,” is sold out) Where: Cultural Center of Cape Cod, 307 Old Main St., South Yarmouth Admission: $10 for exhibit and full-day access to center Tickets and information: 508-394-7100, www.culturalcenter.org
According to McGraw’s description of restoring one vehicle, he first fits the pieces together, then takes it all apart again to “clean it up, paint and polish” before putting it all together again.
One of the oldest bikes in the show is a 1915 K Board Tracker, which will be displayed along with classics dating from the 1920s through to the current era.
Besides the machines, the show includes signs, race posters, a painting and other memorabilia that McGraw has chased down over the years. One limited edition 1930 poster has a “sister” that hangs in the Smithsonian, Wolk says.
As important to McGraw as the bikes themselves, says Wolk, are the stories that accompany them: “He’ll tell story after story about their lineage.”
His favorite bike? “That’s a tough one,” he said in the exhibit information. “One of my favorites is the Harley two cam. ... It was Harley’s racing engine, de-tuned and put into a street bike. ... Right from the dealer in 1928, it could go 85 miles an hour. ... But it was very expensive – $390 in (those days). You could buy a very nice car for that back then.” Any that he’s missing? “There’s one that’s called the 8-valve Harley, which is the Holy Grail. Don’t have one of those.”
Describing the exhibit, Wolk says that these machines represent “a match of form and function. ... They are tailor-made for their purpose.” Harleys, she adds, are “part of our history, a blend of historical, artistic and engineering expertise.” In many ways, motorcycles are “a great equalizer, drawing in riders of many different backgrounds. ... It’s American on so many levels, democracy on wheels.”