Past Forward

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Posts Tagged roadside america

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Cunningham Drugs, Detroit, Michigan, 1976. THF 239803 

It is with great sadness that we hear of the passing of John Margolies.

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Elwood Bar, Detroit, Michigan, 1986. THF 239044

John was motivated the same way many photographers with a deep appreciation for history are: he wanted to capture things that had become overlooked, structures that were endangered, vulnerable, and on the brink of destruction. But rather than choosing a neighborhood, or town or region he chose what could be found along the edges of all the old roads, the pre-interstate routes stretched throughout the United States—like a local historian of endless highways. His finest images look like stills from a perfect road movie, and they capture an element of the nation’s essence and identity—mom and pop businesses, motels, diners, crazy signage and attractions, clamoring for the attention of motorists, played out against distance and motion.

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Sands Motel, Grants, New Mexico, 2003. THF 239001

A large selection of John’s photographic slides were acquired by The Henry Ford in 2013; John also donated a great many roadside-related souvenirs and other items.

The museum’s exhibit Roadside America: Through the Lens of John Margolies ran from June 2015 to January 2016. Continue Reading

roads and road trips, popular culture, Roadside America, John Margolies, photography, photographs, in memoriam, by Marc Greuther

The Rocket Motel, in Joplin, Missouri, was once a stop on Route 66.  Sign photographed 1979 by John Margolies.  THF115692

As the pre-Interstate American roadside has slowly disappeared, why has it taken on such meaning for us? Historical geographer David Lowenthal tried to explain it in his book with the unusual title, The Past is a Foreign Country. He said it has to do with our desire to re-establish a sense of place in an increasingly rootless world. Old buildings, old signs, old lampposts and fences—those genuine pieces of evidence that prove to us that an earlier, almost mythic time once existed—provide a sense of stability and permanence lacking in our present lives.

Today, we appreciate the buildings, signs, and landscapes of the American roadside for many different reasons: their pre-Modernist artistry; their funky and humorous attempts to beckon motorists during the Golden Age of road trips; or perhaps the entrepreneurial spirit of the many Mom-and-Pop establishments that tried to make a go of it before national chains and franchises took over. No matter what the reason, our appreciation inevitably relates to a respect for—even a reverence of—what once was but is no more. Continue Reading

photographs, John Margolies, travel, popular culture, photography, by Donna R. Braden, roads and road trips, Roadside America

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John Margolies is both a photographer and a collector of items related to American travel and its unique sights.  In preparation for our upcoming exhibit about Margolies and the American roadside, we’ve digitized a number of selections from this collection, including 35mm slides taken by John Margolies himself, and pennants and hotel/motel do-not-disturb signs he collected. This week, we add another grouping to that list: Dexter Press photographs dating between 1935 and 1950, designed to be used as postcards. The images, collected by Margolies, capture the same types of establishments he would photograph decades later: gas stations, diners, salons, and stores, such as the Dixie Liquor Store in St. Louis, MO, shown here. Browse more than 30 Dexter Press photos and postcards by visiting our Digital Collections, and be sure to mark your calendar to come see many of our Margolies items in person in the exhibit “Roadside America: Through the Lens of John Margolies” between June 20, 2015 and January 24, 2016.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

John Margolies, travel, photographs, digital collections, Roadside America

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A couple of weeks ago on the blog, we shared slides from the John Margolies Roadside America collection, newly digitized in anticipation of a Margolies exhibit coming to The Henry Ford later this year.  However, John Margolies did not only take photographs of interesting places he encountered on the road; he also collected related items.  We’ve just digitized about 300 pennants Margolies collected, representing various cities, states, parks, zoos, circuses, beaches, landmarks, and intriguing roadside attractions.  On this colorful example, Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox invite you to visit the Trees of Mystery along the Redwood Highway, California.  To find out if your hometown or favorite childhood attraction is represented, visit our collections website and peruse all the digitized pennants—and see if you can spot any of them in the exhibit later this year!

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

popular culture, roads and road trips, by Ellice Engdahl, John Margolies, Roadside America

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John Margolies spent decades traveling the United States and photographing roadside attractions, restaurants, shops, and motels, with a particular focus on interesting or quirky shapes and signage.  Many of the places he photographed are in varying states of abandonment and decline, but harken back to the excitement of the golden era of road trips and the unique commercial designs they spawned.  Last year, The Henry Ford acquired about 1500 slides by John Margolies, and a little later this year, we will be putting on an exhibit of selected material, transformed from 35mm slide format into art prints.  If you’d like to get a jump on the exhibit, you can currently view over 120 recently digitized Margolies slides on our collections website (including, in most cases, the slide mounts with John Margolies’s hand-written notes).  Some of these images—perhaps this dinosaur offering up live music and a really good deal on a large t-bone—will be featured within the exhibit.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

digital collections, photographs, photography, popular culture, John Margolies, roads and road trips, Roadside America, by Ellice Engdahl

margolies-sign

John Margolies has spent decades traveling the roads of America and photographing roadside attractions, restaurants, shops, and motels. Many of them are in varying states of abandonment and decline, but harken back to the excitement of 20th century road trips and the unique commercial designs they spawned. The Henry Ford recently acquired about 1,500 slides by John Margolies, and is digitizing selections by Chief Curator and Curator of Industry & Design Marc Greuther, including this drive-in cleaners’ sign photographed in 1987 in Oregon. View more selections from the Margolies collection on our collections website.

Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections and Content Manager at The Henry Ford.

popular culture, roads and road trips, Roadside America, John Margolies, by Ellice Engdahl, digital collections