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Norfolk, Virginia’s Chrysler Museum of Art – ART IN MOTION

All photos courtesy of the Chrysler Museum of Art


Norfolk, Virginia’s Chrysler Museum of Art – ART IN MOTION

Norfolk, Virginia’s Chrysler Museum of Art


My first press trip, hosted by Chrysler, was at the launch of Chrysler’s all-new Neon. Held in Austin, the rollout was notable for much more than it being my ‘first’. There was, of course, the credibility of the car itself, one of the first efforts by a domestic OEM to go for the center of the Japanese thrust, Honda’s Civic and Toyota’s Corolla. And it gave me a chance to not only meet Chrysler’s Bob Lutz (in the hotel’s elevator), but also attempt to follow the guy – behind the wheel of a Neon – on the Hill Country’s aggressively winding pavement. That effort, of course, failed.

However, neither at that product launch some thirty years ago, or at any Chrysler/Daimler-Chrysler/FCA/Stellantis event since, have I heard a reference to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. Until, of course, now. And while that knowledge gap is more on me than it is today’s Chrysler, given the company’s ongoing focus on design and a museum’s ongoing pursuit of visibility, I have to wonder what took so long. 

As you’d guess, Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. is closely related to Walter P. Chrysler, Sr. ‘Junior’ wasn’t born into wealth – at that point, in 1909, Walter Chrysler, Senior was a master mechanic for the Chicago Great Western Railroad. But Senior would, within a very few years, make the transition to the auto industry. And by 1925 Walter P. Chrysler, Sr. had founded his namesake corporation and moved to New York where, according to the museum’s website, the Chrysler’s lived lavishly and joined New York’s high – and now upwardly mobile – society. 

Walter P. Chrysler, Jr. – as the oldest son and the third of four children – was preordained to assume the family position, but would demonstrate early a capacity for spending money more easily than earning that money. Art became an overriding focus and passion while still in school. Although a bleeding ulcer was ostensibly the reason for departing from Dartmouth, it was more probably a bleeding bank account, worsened by a recuperative trip to Europe and his introduction to French modernist art.

While Americans were lining up for soup between the onset of the Great Depression in 1930 and the beginnings of World War II, Chrysler, Jr. was acquiring containers of art. And the number of art pieces couldn’t be housed or displayed in even the biggest apartments or homes – it would, for the most part, be warehoused, waiting for a proper repository.

Finding that home would begin with meeting Jean Outland, from Norfolk, Virginia, after his posting to that city at the onset of World War II. Marriage followed, and with Jean’s roots in Norfolk and close connection to Walter, discussions of a donation to what was then the Norfolk Museum began in 1969. With a renaming appropriate to the size of Chrysler’s collection, the art museum became the centerpiece of Norfolk’s cultural revival. 

Photo by Paul McCartney

My wife and I went to see Paul McCartney’s photography exhibition, a collection of pics taken by McCartney during the band’s first visit to the U.S.; that viewing took most of the afternoon allotted to the museum. But a return trip will be made, perhaps in conjunction with a visit to nearby Williamsburg. Chrysler’s artistic acquisitions were wide ranging, from Picasso to Pollock, and the skill with which the museum’s staff arranges that collection is fully appropriate to Chrysler’s 50+ years of acquisition.

Obviously, the Walter Chryslers are, at this point, far removed from the multinational that is Stellantis. But despite the (erroneous) perception that Norfolk is little more than a smallish southern town, our Defense Department infuses the local economy not only with god-knows-how-many $illions, but also a boatload (literally) of 21st century tech. 

Norfolk’s Chrysler Museum of Art would be a superb venue for a product launch. The museum is there, while Chrysler’s new Halcyon Concept is almost there.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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