They sit perched on the front of a car. Each represents a specific brand.
At first they had a purpose. These days, they are mainly for show.
A collection of car hood ornaments are on display at “Cast in Chrome: The Art of Hood Ornaments,” an exhibition at The Car and Carriage Museum of The Frick Pittsburgh. The exhibition will run through Oct. 31.
“Hood ornaments were originally designed for a purpose and then transformed into elaborate decorations or symbols,” said Kim Cady, assistant curator of the Car and Carriage Museum. “They reflected an idea of motion and speed and grace.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop | Tribune-Review
“Cast in Chrome: The Art of Hood Ornaments,” is an exhibit inside The Car and Carriage Museum at The Frick Pittsburgh in Point Breeze.
The collection features more than 30 hood ornaments. The exhibit shows their inception in the 1910s — as a device to monitor radiator temperature — to their transformation into expressions of status throughout the early 20th century.
Glass ornaments by French artist and designer René Lalique were status symbols because of their fragility and rarity. They’re on loan from the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Mich. Others are from the Classic Car Club of America Museum in Hickory Corners Mich., the AACA Museum Inc. in Hershey, the LeMay America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Wash., and two local lenders.
Car manufacturers saw an opportunity for branding, creating factory hood ornaments associated with specific makes and models, according to Cady.
Courtesy of Gregory Pytlik
Spirit of Ecstasy, Charles Sykes for Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Salamanca Town Car, 1923. Frick Art & Historical Center, 2002.1.1. Gift of William Penn Snyder, III.
Rolls-Royce never deviated from its hood ornament, the “Spirit of Ecstasy,” a woman in billowing robes that resemble wings. Mercedes-Benz has its chrome star logo; Cadillac’s is an emblem of a wreath and crest. Mack Trucks kept its signature bulldog.
The exhibition examines those who sculpted the miniature works of art, and examines their decline in popularity.
There are sections devoted to women, animals, mythology, art-deco-inspired motifs and space. Each theme has a featured automobile from the 1920s or 1930s, a selection of hood ornaments, and clothing from the period.
Some ornaments weighed five to eight pounds. If they flew off the hood of a car, they could cause some damage, Cady said. The exhibit features replicas of the ornaments that guests can hold.
Cady said as the interest turned away from big cars to more economically friendly vehicles, hood ornaments diminished.
Ornaments have also inspired jewelry worn by celebrities, said Cady, who will host “Curating Chrome: A Virtual Tour with the Curator” at 7 p.m. on May 12. Register here.
“When driving around and looking in your rearview mirror, when you see a hood ornament or logo, you know what make of car that is,” Cady said. “You just recognize it.”
The exhibit is free. Timed ticketing is required.