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The Model T, Art and the Great Open Spaces

From 1908 until 1927, the Ford Motor Company manufactured what remains the most influential, iconic, and longest running best selling —surpassed only by the Volkswagen Beetle in 1972—motor vehicle of the twentieth century, the Model T Ford.
 
In creating the Model T, Henry Ford aimed to “build a car for the great multitude…[that]…will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for.  It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise.  But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one — and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”
 
From 1908 until 1927, the Ford Motor Company manufactured what remains the most influential, iconic, and longest running best selling —surpassed only by the Volkswagen Beetle in 1972—motor vehicle of the twentieth century, the Model T Ford.
 
In creating the Model T, Henry Ford aimed to “build a car for the great multitude…[that]…will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for.  It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise.  But it will be low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one — and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.”
 
With the Model T, Ford accomplished these goals and many corollary achievements: the refinement of the assembly process of modern mass production, the establishment of a minimum wage and the eight-hour work day, the beginning of the aftermarket supplier industry, the establishment of the left-hand drive standard for North America, and the creation of an international dealership distribution network.  The automotive engineering that produced the Model T pioneered the “Built Ford Tough” truck and the single-block motor with a removable cylinder head that became the basis for most modern engines.
 
Cars were novelties before their affordability and ubiquity—thanks to the Model T— turned them into necessities.  As affordable novelties, that they might offer “the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces” was a promotional benefit.  Ford advertised this benefit in Ford Times, a monthly magazine published by the Ford Motor Company from April 15, 1908 continually until 1996.  A magazine similar to Reader’s Digest in format and scope, each issue usually consisted of several stories, as well as promotional information about current Ford vehicles.  Monochrome production gave way to colour in the 1950s with photographs and illustrations doing their best to highlight the pleasures of “God’s great open spaces.”
 
Today, our thinking about the nexus between cars and nature is dominated by the struggle and debate about controlling global carbon dioxide emissions, gasoline powered motor vehicles being considered amongst the worst emitters.  When the nexus between cars and nature was, shall we say, more affirmative—as portrayed in Ford Times—some of the most beautiful imagery of the animals, birds, insects, fish and plants native to America was created for the magazine by the illustrator/artist Charles Harper.  If you don’t know Charles Harper’s work, give yourself a treat this Christmas season by googling “Charles Harper” and feast your eyes on the images you will see.
 
Mr. Harper freelanced for Ford Times for over 30 years and contributed over 400 paintings, often writing the companion text.  Readers wanting prints of the paintings prompted Harper to create silk-screen prints, which have become collectors’ items.  Charley Harper An Illustrated Life by Todd Oldham, AMMO Books, 2007 also makes a wonderful gift.
 

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