by Ken Steacy
Published by Chronicle Books
120 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Fascination With Shiny Objects
Reviewed by David Middleton
Take a stroll through Ken Steacy's basement and you'll likely need a pair of shades to cut the glare. Walls, shelves and cabinets are filled with gleaming and glinting metal. Author/illustrator Steacy is described as an "avid" brightwork collector, though to look through Brightwork: Classic American Car Ornamentation, "rabid" would be more appropriate. Not that this is a bad thing. Steacy shows more passion, care and dedication to the collection of the shiny objects that once graced automobile hoods, quarter panels and dashboards than just about anyone I've encountered. The dedication to his "collecting disorder" is evident in just the presentation of the pieces. The massive collection of hood ornaments alone tells you a lot about Steacy as a collector. Almost every piece is lovingly mounted on a solid hardwood base shaped to duplicate the curve of the car hood the mascot originally stood upon.
Cars in the fifties had more of everything: more chrome, more glass, more horsepower, more weight, length, and width. As the surface area grew, so, too, did the need for more brightwork to identify the make.
Steacy's obvious bias for decades-old car ornamentation is evident in the preface written by author Douglas Coupland:
I wasn't the least bit surprised when Ken told me he was doing a book on brightwork, and one would be hard pressed to locate anybody more capable of doing the job. Most of all he's... well, he's just crazy about the darn things!
Steacy's introductory text is short but concise and he makes his points clearly, giving a brief but enlightening history of automotive style and its place in culture and commerce.
Brightwork is further broken up into obvious sections "Hood Ornaments," "Horn Buttons," "Emblems" and "Script" with a finishing chapter on "Collecting" which covers how and where to find brightwork as well as restoring (should you or shouldn't you) and displaying the pieces once they are in your grubby and eager hands. But the real point of this book is the brightwork itself. The gleaming bits of 3-D graphic design. My favs? Being a bit of an auto design fan myself, it's a bit of a toss-up between the dramatic amber glassed Indian head mascot of the 1953 Pontiac Deluxe, the campy Buck Rogers-styled rocket ornament of the 1935-36 Hupmobile and the elegant Egyptian sun god Ra who adorned the radiator cap of the Stutz from 1926 to 1935.
David Middleton is the art director of January Magazine and his brightwork collection consists solely of the not-so-sought-after hood ornament of his once beloved 1978 Honda Accord.