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Photo Courtesy of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts This Hoover vacuum is an example of the streamlining fad started in the ’30s

MONTREAL -- These lines are simply smooth, boldly sleek and sensuously curved. The feeling is pure nostalgic fun.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presents American Streamlined Design: The World of Tomorrow. On display are some 180 artifacts -- mostly appliances -- that defined a generation who sought to make life easier with the flip of a switch, always with futuristic design in mind. The exhibit explores five themes that include the office, household appliances and tools, the kitchen and bathroom, interior decorating, and sports and leisure.

The majority of artifacts on hand come from the museum's Eric Brill collection, a collector who had a passion for design prototypes and industrial objects made between 1930 and 1950. The collection highlights some of Brill's favorite designers including Henry Dreyfuss, who designed New York Central Railroad's Twentieth Century Limited and interiors for Pan Am Airlines; and Raymond Loewy, whose clients included Westinghouse Electric, IBM and Sears Roebuck -- he designed the Coldspot refrigerator in 1934.

Streamlining, a North American original, debuted during the 1930s, says the press release. It didn't take long for manufacturers and designers to latch on to the "streamline" title. The exhibit alone boasts a variety of products with the unique moniker including a Sterling Streamline iron from the 1930s, a pair of Streamline bright chrome clearance lamps made for the back of a 1950s car, and a deck of Streamline playing cards.

Author Sylvia Ullback, a.k.a. Sylvia of Hollywood, even penned a 1939 exercise book titled "Streamline Your Figure."

While the streamline appliances were supposed to make life easier, the circa 1930s steel vacuum cleaners on display look as if they weigh a ton. I'm sure that while they were vacuuming the house, the generation of grandmas who had to lug those about muttered a few cuss words to grandpa for bringing the darn thing home.

But more than once did I feel I was indeed back at grandma's house with the likes of the electric kitchen mixers, porcelain bathroom sink and even the Hobart Streamliner meat slicer from 1942 on display. Why my grandparents owned a similar meat slicer remains a family mystery. The kicker is: I still own the thing!

Also displayed, Robert Davol Budlong's 1936 Zephyr Fan and Richard Ten Eyck's 1945 Vornado Fan look like they could power a small aircraft. Peter Müller-Munk's chromium-plated Normandie Pitcher from 1935 was inspired by the smokestacks of the French ocean liner of the same name. And from the same year, the Top-O-Stove Potato Cooker was a pre-microwave miracle. The appliance, which resembles a large shiny metal egg, perfectly cooked a single skewered baked potato from the inside out.

The streamline design tradition continues with modern artifacts that include a 2005 edition Tiffany Grand automatic watch, and a pair of Nike Air Max Contact sneakers. There's even a gleaming metallic green aluminum Smooth-Ness motorcycle created by custom chopper maker Arlen Ness in 1999. It looks as if it can break a land speed record sitting still.

Most fun of all -- the Museum of Fine Arts even manages to exhibit a full-size 1948 aluminum Airstream Liner Trailer designed by Wally Byam.

American Streamlined Design continues until Oct. 28.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is at 1379 Sherbrooke St. W. (Metro Guy-Concordia). Admission for American Streamlined Design is free. Hours are Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and weekends from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Also visit "Once Upon a Time Walt Disney" until June 24. Admission for Disney costs $15 for adults, $7.50 for students and seniors, free for children 12 and under. Reduced adult admission costs $7.50 Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to closing. Call (514) 265-1600 or visit www.mmfa.qc.ca.

writeonbetty@sympatico.ca

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