21Country: Collection of rare, elaborate hood ornaments on display in Auburn

Exhibit includes 150 car mascots of Jon Zoler’s personal collection
Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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AUBURN, Ind. (WPTA21) - The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is holding an impressive collection of “functional art”. Throughout the first floor of the historic Cord administration building, are display cases of a new exhibit called Evolution of American Car Mascots and Hood Ornaments. It consists of 150 personal artifacts of collector Jon Zoler.

“I’ve always been interested in art — my wife has been interested in collecting in art,” he told us during his visit to the museum, “and we’ve been collecting art for… I guess now, must be close to 50 years!” They began with large items, American Folk Art, which included weathervanes, decoys, carved wooden objects, and furniture. But when they moved from New Jersey, to make a home in Florida, they sold it all. “What collectors do, is they collect,” Zoler said. “We weren’t going to go back to what we had collected before. That phase of our life was over.” Soon after, the sculptural look, and smaller size of hood ornaments caught their attention.

“Americans use the term ‘hood ornament’. The English and Europeans more likely use the term ‘car mascot’, but they’re basically talking about the same thing,” he elaborated. It’s been over a decade now, and Zoler has acquired pieces from across the world. Displayed at the museum though, are all American-made hood ornaments between 1911 and 1957. In the earlier years, they had two purposes: as a thermometer to make sure the radiator didn’t overheat, and to convey a brand’s image and/or style. “Pontiac had an Indian starting in 1926, and they used that theme for 30 years,” Zoler described. “Packard had goddesses, Cadillac had goddesses. The other common themes were powerful animals, fast animals, graceful animals.”

And you’ll see just that at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum — a wide range of big or small, short or long hood ornaments. Simple or elaborate depictions of lions, pegasus, Native Americans, spaceships and rockets, even a baseball player. And though they were popular for many years, they began to disappear from production because of concerns over safety, and designs to reduce weight around the 1960s.

“I basically think that collectors should share with people that like to enjoy objects of art — what they have,” Zoler said. “If you’re a collector, you get satisfaction in seeing other people enjoy what you’ve purchased and these objects.” He is sending another 50 hood ornaments and mascots to the museum soon, where everything will be on display through June of 2024. “It being here, in this incredible 1930s Art Deco showroom is a perfect marriage or collaboration.”

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You can visit the Evolution of American Car Mascots and Hood Ornaments at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Tickets are $12.50 for adults. Children under 5 visit for free. You can find more information on the museum here.

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