Willie G. Davidson, grandson of Harley-Davidson founder William A. Davidson, says he was born with gasoline in his veins and a crayon in each hand. From June 13 to September 7, the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee will reveal a little bit more about H-D’s de facto lead designer for the past half-a-century. Willie G. Davidson: Artist, Designer, Leader, Legend is designed to take the visitor inside the mind of the man who became Harley’s first design director, in 1963. Willie G. has created a string of designs that define Harley-Davidson to the world, beginning with the 1971 FX Super Glide.


The exhibit will be housed in the Museum’s Garage space, and will contain a wide variety of pieces Willie and his wife Nancy have collected over the years. From family and motorcycle memorabilia to Native American artifacts and American folk art, to his own watercolors, museum curators say the objects Willie surrounds himself with will provide visitors with unique insights into his inspirations as a designer and artist. Though some of his motorcycles may seem self-taught, you may not have been aware that Willie G. studied design at the University of Wisconsin and LA’s Art Center College of Design before taking on his role at Harley.

“The exhibit focuses not just on what Willie has accomplished, but on the path he took to develop his talent and learn his art,” says Jim Fricke, curatorial director of the Harley-Davidson Museum. “Most of the material in the exhibit has never been on public view, including hundreds of pieces from Willie’s personal collection. The objects and the interpretation tell the story of Willie’s life and career, but concentrate on how those things he is passionate about – family, art, motorcycling, racing, Native American traditions, American folk art, customization, cars, good design, the community of Harley-Davidson enthusiasts and the company’s rich heritage – have inspired him as a designer and an artist.”

Willie G. exhibit, Harley-Davidson Museum

Painted during Willie’s student days at Art Center College in the mid-1950s, this class project stands out for him. Design and painting would go hand in hand as Willie moved into his professional career, and continues to be an important creative outlet. Courtesy of: Willie G. Davidson

“It’s amazing to see not only my dad’s contribution to motorcycles honored through this exhibit but also his incredible artistic ability,” said Bill Davidson, vice president of the Harley-Davidson Museum. “I hope visitors enjoy following his personal and creative journey as much as I have.”

Willie’s late-1930s Drake midget racer is powered by anl EL “Knucklehead” engine. Courtesy of: Willie G. Davidson

Willie’s late-1930s Drake midget racer is powered by anl EL “Knucklehead” engine. Courtesy of: Willie G. Davidson

The styling department Willie built continues to extend Davidson’s design leadership at the Willie G. Davidson Product Development Center in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Is he retired or isn’t he? WG’s official title is Chief Styling Officer Emeritus and Brand Ambassador;

Willie and Nancy are often to be found at events wherever the Bar & Shield are a presence. Like, nearly all of them.

Yes there’s a video.

The Harley-Davidson Museum is located at 400 West Canal Street in Milwaukee. It’s open year-round and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area each year. Located on a 20-acre campus, there’s plenty of free parking, the MOTOR Bar & Restaurant, and don’t forget to exit through the gift shop.

For more information, visit H-Dmuseum.com.