The Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, located in Cleveland, Ohio, showcases Northeast Ohio’s contribution to the transportation industry. It features 170 automobiles, 12 aircraft, and three carriages/sleighs in its permanent collection. However, only 21 non-car exhibits (motorcycles, bicycles, and boats) round out the collection. To help boost the museum’s two-wheeled appeal, 13 life-sized paintings by late Cleveland-based artist Shirley Aley Campbell will join the institution’s motorcycle exhibit throughout 2023.

Titled “Motorcyclists of the Seventies”, the series of five-foot by seven-foot paintings depict riders from 1973 to 1981. Subjects include Motor Maids founding member Dot Robinson, renowned female daredevil Debbie Lawler, and Hells Angels John Knoble and Bob “Laco” Lawrence. Local businessman Joseph Erdelac commissioned Campbell, a Cleveland Institute of Art graduate, to create the paintings in 1973. He did so after admiring her work at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual May Show.

Debbie Lawler 2

Despite Erdelac’s brief, neither he nor Campbell had ever ridden a motorcycle. Still, the art advocate stressed the importance of technical accuracy.

“He said to me you have got to get everything perfect. The wheels have to be perfect because they’ll be examined,” Campbell recalled in a 2017 interview. “So, I had to go look at all these spokes, sketch them, make sure that they were right. He had this group of engineers examine them, and I stood in the background thinking, ‘I hope to god I got it right.’”

More than 20 years after completion, Campbell’s “Motorcyclists of the Seventies” series was scheduled to go to auction in 2012. Fortunately, Daniel Bush, the owner of Cleveland’s 78th Street Studios art center, rescued the paintings in the nick of time. The series remained on display at the 78th Street Studios for years before the organization moved them into storage.

Now, Campbell’s works will return to the public eye with a stint at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum’s permanent motorcycle exhibit.

“I’m excited to have the paintings in the public eye to enjoy again,” admitted Bush. “And to have them at the Crawford Museum adjacent to their permanent motorcycle exhibit is amazing. I think Shirley would have loved it.”

The Crawford Museum is open on Thursdays from 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm and Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission for adults (ages 13-61) costs $15 while seniors (62+) and children (ages 3-12) gain entry for $13 and $8, respectively.

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