Michigan Modern: The Model T has Left the Building

Sunday marked the last day of the exhibition Michigan Modern: Design That Shaped America at Cranbrook Art Museum.  This means that Monday saw the start of the museum staff’s busiest time—the five weeks in which we take down one exhibition and put up another.  Dismantling Michigan Modern is difficult; we need to say goodbye to objects we love and figure out the difficult process of getting them out the door.  And if there is one object in the entire exhibition that typifies the emotional drama of letting go as well as the physical challenge of moving giant historical artifacts, it is the Model T chassis.

Model T Chassis, The Henry Ford.  On view in Michigan Modern at Cranbrook Art Museum.  September 2013, Shell Hensleigh/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Model T Chassis, The Henry Ford. On view in Michigan Modern at Cranbrook Art Museum. September 2013, Shell Hensleigh/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Nicknamed “Lizzie” (after the handle “Tin Lizzie,” an early 20th century moniker for the Model T), the Model T chassis on view during the Michigan Modern exhibition was loaned to Cranbrook Art Museum by The Henry Ford.  Henry Ford staff and a team of professional riggers came up to Cranbrook in June to move the chassis into the galleries, and this week they returned to take Lizzie home.

Returning the Model T to The Henry Ford was a process easier said than done.  Not only did we have to contend with the object’s weight and relative fragility (lots of small and breakable parts on a car, go figure), but there was also the not-so-minor obstacle of its width—the chassis was too wide to fit through the front doors of Cranbrook Art Museum.  In moving the Model T out of the building, we did the reverse of what was done all the way back in June, fixing the chassis on its side onto a framed dolly and rolling it sideways out the front door. In retrospect, this process sounds relatively simple.  In practice, however, flipping the car onto its side was a nail-bitingly anxious experience (at least for me, watching from the sidelines).  Our team of riggers, however—ably assisted by staff from The Henry Ford and Cranbrook Art Museum—did a phenomenal job of keeping the Model T safe and secure in its journey from upright to sideways.  Click on the video below to get a sense of the process:

Once we got her on her side, Lizzie rolled out the front door and down a ramp before being carted off to her truck for the journey back to The Henry Ford.  While we’re sad to see her go, moving her was a thrilling process.  The Model T chassis was an essential part of the Michigan Modern story, and we couldn’t have told it without the help of The Henry Ford and the other many generous institutions that lent artwork, objects, and digital material to the exhibition.

Tilting the Model T chassis right side up outside of the museum.  October 2013.  Shoshana Resnikoff/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Tilting the Model T chassis right side up outside of the museum. October 2013. Shoshana Resnikoff/Cranbrook Art Museum.

Now that we’re saying goodbye to Michigan Modern, * we can start thinking about the obstacles posed by our next exhibition: My Brain Is in My Inkstand: Drawing as Thinking and Process, opening November 16.  We may not have to worry about cars with this one, but given that it includes live drawing in the galleries, a skate ramp, and a basketball legend, we can be sure that something exciting and unexpected will come up.

Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

* We might have to say goodbye to Michigan Modern, but you don’t—the show, which was the brainchild of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office and their five-year Michigan Modern preservation and documentation project, will be traveling to the Grand Rapids Art Museum and opens there in May of 2014. 

2 thoughts on “Michigan Modern: The Model T has Left the Building

  1. thank you for the insight on this exhibit – It all sounds very precarious, moving the car chassis out the narrow doors. Enjoy these sound bites very much.

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  2. Nancy, thanks for your lovely comment! We’re so glad that you’re enjoying these “sound bites,” as you call them (a wonderful phrase that we’re going to be borrowing, so thank you) – it is a blast writing them, and we always love your responses!

    Like

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