Detroit Institute of Arts Debuts Automotive, Industrial, and Decorative Design Collection

Duane Lloyd Bohnstedt (1924-2016), Chevrolet Corvette, 1964. Watercolor on board.  Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Robert Edwards and Julie Hyde-Edwards.  // Courtesy Detroit Institute of Arts
Duane Lloyd Bohnstedt (1924-2016), Chevrolet Corvette, 1964. Watercolor on board. Detroit Institute of Arts, Gift of Robert Edwards and Julie Hyde-Edwards. // Courtesy Detroit Institute of Arts

Funded by a $5 million donation from the Mort and Brigitte Harris Foundation, the Detroit Institute of Arts will hire a new curator and acquire cross-media works that illuminate the interconnected creative and technological design and function efforts that defined and continue to characterize the ingenuity of the development of America’s automotive industry, emphasizing Detroit’s special place in this narrative.

The new collection will be launched with a gift of 91 automotive drawings by Julie Hyde-Edwards, representing decades of study, collecting and advocacy by the donor and her late husband Robert Edwards on behalf of Detroit auto designers and their art produced.

“I am grateful to Mort’s son, Stuart Harris, and Brigitte’s daughter, Michele Becker, and trustee Doreen Vitti, with the support of Mort’s partner, Sandy Morrison, for continuing the Harris family’s longstanding and generous support of the museum,” says Salvador Salort-Pons, Director of the DIA. “Mort’s leadership and generosity helped shape so many Detroit institutions throughout his life.

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“Together with Brigitte, it was a pleasure to experience her interest in art and the DIA. This gift is enhanced by the extraordinary collection of works donated by Julie-Hyde Edwards, who worked tirelessly with Robert Edwards to preserve and document these fragile works of art so that future generations will experience and fall in love with the work of these Detroiters can artists.”

The Harris Foundation will appoint a new curatorial position, Mort Harris Curator of Automotive, Industrial, and Decorative Design. The curator guides the museum in collecting concept drawings, models, paintings, prints, photographs, posters, architectural renderings, toys, time-based media, digital, and other media to piece together the aesthetic, social, political, and economic narratives of transportation design.

This collection explores the facets of modern life shaped by automotive design, including the natural and built environments, work and play, art and commerce, and consumer interests in safety and speed, practicality and sophistication, and utility and beauty.

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The concerns of taste, technology and consumption are combined with many aspects of the DIA’s existing collections – from the documentary photography of Robert Frank to the sculptural products of Abstract Expressionism to the colorful advertising aesthetics of Pop Art and beyond.

Automotive design is just one facet of industrial design. Accordingly, the department will build on its existing American and European holdings of industrial and decorative design, carefully expanding these collections to demonstrate the continuum and connection of these areas with their shared designers, materials and services for the everyday needs and demands of luxury in modern living.

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Mort Harris, who died May 5, 2021 at the age of 101, co-founded American Axle and Manufacturing Holdings Inc. in Detroit. He served as the premier pilot of the Flying Fortress during World War II, where he flew 33 missions and received three Distinguished Flying Crosses, six Air Medals, a Polish Medal of Honor, and a Presidential Citation.

He was also knighted in the French Legion of Honour. After the war he was president of Mercier Corp., a metallurgical subcontractor, co-founder of Euroad, which became one of the largest trucking companies in Europe, and acquired Erie Coke and Chemical Co., which he turned into the largest privately owned coke company in the United States.

To learn more about Detroit’s rich history of automotive design, read on DBusiness Find the magazine’s latest article on retired photographer Jim Secreto’s collection of advertising art.