Tour de Mia
In honor of Bike Night, a cycle-centric tour of the Minneapolis Institute of Art
By Kate Brenner
1. “Professor Pug Frog’s Great Bicycle Feat” mechanical bank (shown above), c. 1892, in gallery G110
Attributed to Charles A. Bailey; Manufacturer: J. & E. Stevens Company, Cromwell, Connecticut, 1843–1950s
Why is a frog riding a penny-farthing bike on this mechanical bank? Good question. And why does the frog appear to be named Professor Pug Frog? Even better question. But this bank wasn’t designed to make sense, it was designed to get kids to save money. You put a coin over the small wheel, and push a button. Instead of moving forward, like you might expect, the professor spins around the axis, depositing the coin. See for yourself: a quick Google search of the name of this bank offers multiple videos showing the bank in action!
2. Teahouse, 2001 (constructed), in gallery G225
Yasuimoku Komuten Company Ltd.
Tea or coffee shops are common destinations for a pleasant urban bike ride. This Japanese teahouse was designed to imitate a natural setting and give the visitor respite from the busy world. A coffee shop is often its own respite, a quiet place to get work done or just relax. Of course, biking itself is a way to escape the rush of our world: commuting to work on your bike instead of sitting in traffic, or venturing out into nature.
3. Cercle, by Futamura Yoshimi, 2010, in gallery G252
There is no shortage of round objects in this museum, but this one looks especially tire-like. The artist may have been inspired by nature to create it, and it looks a lot like a fat tire that has seen too much time biking through nature.
4. Stool, by an Asante artist, Ghana, mid-20th century, in gallery G250
In Ghana, stools are very personal. Bikes, though technically for the opposite purpose (movement instead of stasis), are similar. They tell a lot about the owner: a bike messenger has a different type of bike than a person who has multiple small children to transport. What does your bike say about you? How have you personalized it to fit you exactly? Who would you be willing to share it with?
5. Aquamanile (Ram-shaped Ewer), by an unknown artist, Iran, 13th-14th century, in gallery G243
When you bike, you need to drink water (especially in this hot weather). This ram-shaped ewer would have been used to carry water. While the one next to it is a solid blue, this one has been embellished, like one might put stickers to dress up their utilitarian water bottle. Also, doesn’t it kind of look like Babe the Blue Ox?
6. On to Market, by Jodi Webster, 2013, in gallery G259
The title of this piece, On to Market, suggests this person is using their bike as a primary mode of transportation, as many bikers here in Minneapolis do. The artist pushes back against stereotypes of Native Americans as stuck in the past, and portrays them as contemporary members of society while still retaining pride in their community—as you can see in the bike’s decorated fenders.
7. Cradle board cover, Dakhóta, c. 1880, in gallery G259
Babies are cute, but they can’t really get around on their own, so we have always needed ways to take them with us. This cradle board cover, so lovingly decorated, would have been used to nestle a child wherever he or she was ferried—even on the side of a horse—not unlike the myriad ways to carry kids on bikes.
8. “Skippy-Racer” scooter, c. 1933, in gallery G379
John Gordon Rideout; Designer: Harold L. Van Doren; Manufacturer: American National Company
Sure, bikes are cool. But lots of us are also into scooters. They’re an easy way to get into self-propelled transportation, with less need to balance. In the 1930s, though, when scooters burst onto the scene, the Skippy Racer was a pricey ride. Even today, with many low-cost bikes and bike-share programs, there is still a barrier to entry to get into the two-wheel world.
9. “Wassily” armchair, model B3, c. 1926, in gallery G378
Marcel Lajos Breuer; Manufacturer: Standard Möbel
Modern bicycles are quite the feat of engineering: sturdy enough to carry people over potholes, yet light enough to be carried. The designer of this chair was inspired by his bike frame, ditching heavy wood and other materials to make a light but sturdy structure—and it changed the course of furniture design. Who knows what other aspects of life could be altered by emulating bikes?
10. Between Sisters, by Delita Martin, 2018, in gallery G374
Bikes are not the subject of this piece. But how can you look at the overlay design and not immediately think of spokes in bike wheels? These women bring to mind the recent push by people traditionally left out of the biking community—due to their gender and/or race—to carve out their own space in the two-wheel world, including here in Minneapolis through groups like Grease Rag.
11. Plan of Rome, 1748, in gallery G310
Giovanni Battista Nolli; Engraver: Carlo Nolli; Engraver: Rocco Pozzi; Engraver: Pietro Campana da Sorliano; Designer: Stefano Pozzi
How did people cycle before they could use the bike feature on Google Maps? Showing up somewhere that’s listed as having a bike lane, but doesn’t actually, can ruin a whole bike trip. This 18th-century map used the then-revolutionary concept of mapping an entire city accurately. Just don’t fold it up and put it in your back pocket, because it has undergone years of restoration to finally be in good enough condition to be displayed!
12. Evening Concert, by Floyd E. Brewer, 20th century, in gallery G302
Winters here are cold and long. Time that can be truly enjoyed outside is short, but we know how to make the best of it. During the summer, it seems like every weekend there is a festival in at least one park, maybe more. Biking is a practical way to get around, but it’s also a joyful one. Instead of driving in an air-conditioned car and then having to look for parking, you can experience the weather and ride directly up to the celebration, one that might look something a little like this.