Haas Moto Museum and Sculpture Gallery

Motorcycles as Art

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by Corey Levenson

The Haas Moto Museum & Sculpture Gallery in the Dallas Design District bills itself as “A museum like no other.” The vision of the museum’s founder, Bobby Haas, was not to create the biggest display of motorcycles and related art, but the best. Following a recent visit, I’m convinced his museum is not only like no other, in many ways it’s superior to any other.

To understand what makes the museum special, we need to know something about its founder, who led a remarkable life distinguished by bold achievements in several seemingly unrelated arenas.

stone motorcycle carving

The Road to Motorcycles

A Harvard-trained lawyer, Bobby’s early career was spent on Wall Street in the 1980s where his activities in the areas of private equity and leveraged buyouts earned him enough money that he had the freedom to pursue whatever other life goals he found enticing. Bobby’s financial security gave him what he liked to refer to as his “bulletproof vest.”

He bought his first camera when he was 47 and began making wildlife photos. Bobby enjoyed the challenge, and his pictures were unique and captivating. The striking images he captured while leaning out of helicopters — despite his fear of heights — were published by National Geographic magazine and he produced several glossy coffee table books of his photos. Having established himself as a world-class photographer for over a decade, he began to look for additional ways to express himself.

rows of motorcycles on display

At 64, Bobby became interested in motorcycles and bought his first machine, a Ural sidecar outfit. He went on to buy his first “classic” bike in December 2014 on eBay — a 1952 Matchless G3L. The more he learned about motorcycles, the more excited and passionate he became about them. His collecting picked up momentum and his acquisitions eventually outgrew the 5,000 square-foot space known as the Haas Motorcycle Gallery at Dragon, a facility which Bobby opened in 2016 and is located two blocks from the main museum and gallery.

The Dragon facility is where many of the display concepts employed in the main museum were initially tested. Things like suspending machines from the ceiling, mounting bikes on mirrored platforms so their undersides could be viewed, placing bikes well apart and lighting them so that every detail could be clearly seen. Each bike has a placard that tells not only the year, make and model, but also a bit of its story.

dark red motorcycle

Stacey Mayfield joined Bobby’s team in 2016 as Chief Operating Officer and was instrumental in the conceptualization and build-out of the museum at Dragon as well as the new, expanded museum and gallery. She also played a pivotal role in deciding which machines to add to the collection. Stacey eventually became Bobby’s life partner as well as his business partner and continues in her role as Museum Director.

The main Haas Moto Museum and Sculpture Gallery opened in April 2018 with 150 bikes and the 20,000 square-foot building is comprised of four main exhibition areas. The two Haas museums contain a total of more than 230 machines with approximately three quarters of the bikes being in the newer, larger main museum.

In addition to the motorcycles, there are many pieces of moto-related sculpture and graphic art distributed throughout the Dragon Gallery and the Museum. The amazing works of Makoto Endo, who creates his ink drawings using chopsticks, are prominent as are the works of many sculptors. The artwork nicely complements the motorcycles on display.

red Majestic motorcycles

The Collection

The front door to the museum opens into History Hall. It’s the largest room and it houses over 70 motorcycles going back to 1899 (a Peugeot Tricycle). The machines are arranged chronologically and are a mix of restored and preserved examples. Each motorcycle is rare and special and has a bit of its story summarized on its placard. The Hall contains machines from all over the world and, while most of the machines are displayed as stand-alone objects, there are some themes to the displays as well.

For example, Brough-Superior is featured by having a classic 1938 SS80 De Luxe model displayed next to a modern 2019 Brough-Superior Pendine Sand Racer and a 1937 Brough-Superior “Tube” sidecar that used a frame tube to contain extra fuel. These three machines are displayed alongside a large ink drawing by Makoto Endo of Lawrence of Arabia with a Brough. In a nice artistic tip of the hat, the number plate on the bike in the illustration is the same as the number plate on the SS80 on display in the museum.

red and black motorcycle

There’s also a beautiful lineup of art deco machines: a 1931 Dresch, a 1929 Neander, a 1929 Majestic, a 1929 Ascot-Pullin, and a 1929 NEW Motorcycle. It’s a stunning group you’re not likely to see anywhere else. How about a 1950 La Francaise Diamant fire-fighting motorcycle complete with fire extinguisher and sand bucket? This machine was formerly used at a small French airport. These are just some of the extraordinary machines on display.

In addition to the more well-known marques such as Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, and BSA, the Hall also contains bikes with names like NSU, Sarolea, Praga, NUT, MGC, Ardie, Horex, Nimbus, Bimota, Egli-Vincent, and Motosacoche. The variety really is mind-boggling. If the bikes in this Hall were the only machines in the museum, it would justify a visit.

red motorcycle

The second area, The Race Track, contains over forty competition machines spanning 100 years, and includes examples from Moto Morini, Ceccato, Adler, Terrot, Norton, Triumph and Ducati. Highlights of this collection include everything from small displacement single-cylinder Italian racers from the 1950s and 1960s to current land speed race bikes and dragsters with one, two and three engines. Some of the bikes include a 1956 NSU Sportmax, a 1914 Indian board track racer, a 1962 Manx Norton, a 1970s Kawasaki H1R Superbike, a fully enclosed 1958 Ducati three-cam 125cc racer and a 2017 Moto2 GP bike. Also in this area is Max Hazan’s “Saltshaker” Motus-powered 1,650cc turbocharged streamlined land speed record bike. It’s a very impressive 250 horsepower machine that was run at over 200mph on the salt at Bonneville.

The third area is Avant-Garde Avenue which contains a collection of concept bikes and design studies. In this area is “Mister Fahrenheit” a streamlined Moto Guzzi-powered custom sidecar racer designed and built by Craig Rodsmith with the goal that Bobby would someday ride the machine at Bonneville.
This area also contains various electric motorcycles and one-off concept bikes with a futuristic feel, including the fantastic “2029” built by Bryan Fuller as a tribute to the 1929 Majestic, one of the amazing art deco machines displayed in the museum’s History Hall. Many of the beautiful organically intertwined components on the 2029 were produced by 3D printing and could not have been made by traditional subtractive manufacturing methods.

blue and black motorcycle

The final area, The Custom Shop, contains more than 40 fantastic motorcycles. These bikes are the Crown Jewels of the museum’s collection and, as a group, are unequalled by any museum in the world. To be clear, we’re not talking about choppers with extended forks and fat rear tires. The machines in this area of the museum are nothing short of amazing. The amount of thought and work that went into the creation of each one is mind-boggling.

To simply refer to these machines as “custom” seems wholly inadequate. A more accurate phrase would be “Moto-Sculpture.” Many extremely talented, visionary designer-builders are represented in the collection with several of the artists, including Max Hazan, Bryan Fuller, Walt Siegl, Jay Donovan, Dirk Oehlerking and Craig Rodsmith having multiple pieces on display.

Although these motorcycles may not be considered classics, their engines frequently are. Most of the custom bikes are constructed around traditional motorcycle powerplants including a 1915 Indian twin, a supercharged 97-year-old Douglas inline horizontal twin, a Honda inline four, Guzzi twins and BMW boxers.
Describing the machines in The Custom Shop is challenging. Each is the unique result of synergy between visual creativity and profound fabrication skills. Some of the bikes, like Bryan Fuller’s “Shogun” or Michael LaFountain’s Custom Kawasaki W1R, took seven or eight years to complete. The machines in this section of the museum really must be seen to be appreciated.

yellow beeline yamaha motorcycle

Leaving Tracks

Bobby Haas was a strong believer in “leaving tracks” by creating lasting and valuable legacies. He accomplished that with his photographs, and he repeated the feat with his museum’s motorcycle collection. He had a knack for recognizing and moving into areas where there was an opportunity to do something novel and creative (such as aerial wildlife photography).

He recognized the beauty of motorcycles and believed the world of custom motorcycles and their designer-builders was not getting the exposure and attention it deserved. So, he created a unique space for their work to be featured. In Leaving Tracks, the full-length documentary film about Bobby, his life and his fascination with motorcycles, Bobby said that he saw himself as a modern-day Medici — someone who believed in the value of art and wanted to sponsor and support the work of artists by facilitating, enabling, and inspiring.

three motorcycles

Bobby did more than simply acquire unique custom machines for his collection, he built personal relationships with many of the designer-builders. Being able to assist them in realizing many of their artistic ambitions and dreams was deeply satisfying. Bobby had evolved from simply being a collector to being a patron, collaborator and friend. As can be seen in the film, the relationships he formed were special.

Bobby’s careers in finance and photography were largely solo endeavors — he didn’t make many close friends in those fields. The world of motorcycles gave Bobby something he lacked and which he strongly valued — camaraderie and a sense of belonging to a community.

A Museum Like No Other

silver chrome motorcycle with sidecar

The museum’s collection reflects the vision of Bobby and Stacey. Because he became a motorcycle enthusiast later in life, the selection of machines wasn’t driven by brand loyalty, nostalgia, or a desire to acquire the bikes Bobby couldn’t afford when he was young. The machines were selected based on visual appeal and their story/provenance.

Bobby freely admitted that he had no idea about the mechanical workings of a motorcycle. To him, they were sculptures — elegant pieces of rolling art. The Art of the Motorcycle exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 may have pioneered the concept of motorcycles as art, but the Haas Museum is currently the only motorcycle-specific museum based on this premise.

All the machines on display are owned by the museum — nothing is on loan — and there are no motorcycles in storage — everything the museum owns is on display. During the lifespan of the museum, the collection has only grown with no machines being sold. The collection spans all time periods with machines from all nations. The pursuit of excellence and the refusal to settle for anything less than the best were the sole guiding principles in assembling the collection.
Stacey described this question as their primary selection criteria: “Does the machine singe your eyebrows?” Bobby said he knew he had made a good selection when he couldn’t sleep at night because he was thinking about the bike so much. I think most of us know that excited feeling. This fresh perspective from someone steeped in visual arts shaped the Haas collection and made it unique — a museum like no other.

bronze motorcycle sculptures

At the end of the day, do you really need to know anything about the man to appreciate the museum and its contents? Perhaps not — the motorcycles are exceptional, and each bike stands on its own merits. The objects are only part of the collection, the part you can see. As Bobby said: “We don’t fill our museum with objects, we fill it with stories.” The stories behind the museum’s founder and his machines add depth and color to the experience of visiting the museum.

The Future

Bobby Haas passed away, aged 74, in September 2021. In an eerily prescient scene in Leaving Tracks, Bobby held a Zoom call with many of his custom builders and informed them that, in the event of his death, their machines would remain in the museum’s collection for three years and then be returned to their creators, like children returning home to their parents.

It’s not clear how long the Haas collection — Bobby’s “tracks” — will remain intact. The long-term survival of many large motorcycle museums is assured because they’re set up as not-for-profit foundations and, as such, are not dependent on an individual for their financial well-being. Other museums, including the Haas, are essentially the private collections of individuals with a passion for motorcycles. What ultimately becomes of machines in such private collections is hard to predict — they often find their way into other museums or the hands of other collectors/enthusiasts.

men standing around a silver handbuilt motorcycle

The Haas Museum never sought to promote itself. It wasn’t intended to be a commercial venture — it was created to share a spectacular collection of motorcycles and artwork with the world. Considering the quality of the collection and how well it’s presented, it’s remarkable that it’s not better known. That’s a shame because the Haas Museum really is a museum like no other. Given the uncertain fate of the collection, if you’re planning to enjoy what Bobby and Stacey have created, there’s no time like the present.

In April 2019, I saw several custom motorcycles the Haas Museum brought down to Austin for the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show. Since then, I’d been meaning to visit the museum — it’s only a 250 mile drive up I-35 from my home in San Antonio.

I regret procrastinating. Do yourself a favor and don’t be like me. MC

gray blue motorcycle sculpture

For More Info…

For those interested in learning more about Bobby, Stacey and the museum, the full-length documentary film Leaving Tracks is available on YouTube, Vudu, iTunes, Apple TV and Google Play. Part of the proceeds from the film are being donated to The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride organization. The museum also has a YouTube channel with a series of short videos hosted by Bobby about specific machines in the collection.

The museum is located at 1201 Oak Lawn Avenue, Suite 110, Dallas, Texas, 75207, and is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission to the Dragon Gallery is by appointment. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students. Military, veterans and first responders are free.

young woman and middle-aged man posing together in a motorcycle museum
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