For decades, MFA visitors who read the small print have been familiar with the names of Jean and Fred Sharf. “Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf” has appeared at the bottom of hundreds upon hundreds of the labels next to artworks in our galleries. And what a range of works! Late 19th-century Japanese prints, American folk art, drawings by fashion designers, jewelry, architectural renderings, and concept drawings for automobiles. Fred and Jean have never had conventional taste, and they have always followed their passion. In the process, they’ve blazed paths that many other collectors and museums have followed.
Even so, one theme does run through the Sharfs’ collection: transportation. Fred, whose energy is legendary and who is always on the move, has forever been fascinated by the great speeding up of life that occurred in the middle decades of the 20th century. Planes, trains, and, most of all, automobiles, appear over and over again in the collection, as Fred has sought to capture the excitement that accompanied the simple act of getting from one place to another at mid-century. Now, for the first time, we’ve gathered the planes, trains, and automobiles of Fred’s—and the world’s—dreams in one place. There are “spin-dizzies,” concept cars, see-through model planes, and a train that lights up; many by major designers such as Raymond Loewy and Viktor Schreckengost. Come and take a trip!
Above: Western Coil & Electric Company, Burlington Zephyr electric train model, designed 1934, manufactured 1934–40. Cast aluminum, plastic, electrical components. Collection of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf.