Eiteljorg nods to Western film in new exhibit

By Emily Ketterer
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Take a walk through the world of Hollywood’s wild west in the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art’s limited-time exhibit, “The Reel West.”

Visitors can walk along a trail of Hollywood stars paying tribute to famous Western film and TV actors and see props and costumes belonging to those well-known films and shows including: “True Grit,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Bonanza,” “Django: Unchained” and more.

The first item visitors see in the exhibit is Clayton Moore’s original costume from “The Lone Ranger” TV series. Photo by Emily Ketterer, TheStatehouseFile.com.

“The main thing we’re going for in this exhibit is to look at how Westerns have shaped how we as a society think about the world around us,” said Johanna Blume, associate curator of western art history and culture.

At the entrance to the exhibit, guests are greeted by the original “The Lone Ranger” costume worn by Clayton Moore in the 1955 TV series

“One of the things I love is a lot of people are surprised when they first see it and it’s blue because on black and white television, it always looked like he was wearing all white,” Blume said.

As guests go through the exhibit, they are presented with the chronology of Western film as well as various  themes showcased in Western film including: morality, diversity and identity.

“Westerns are really about these moral struggles and this idea of good versus evil and right versus wrong and how to be a good person in the face of adversity,” Blume said. “We also need to look at diversity in Westerns, and most importantly representation and misrepresentation.”

After exiting the exhibit, museum goers can take photos with John Wayne and Django. Photo by Emily Ketterer, TheStatehouseFIle.com.

The process for planning an exhibit such as this one begins years in advance. Blume said the idea came almost four years ago.

“I did a lot of background research about what films are even important, what films do we want to talk about,” Blume said, “Then you have to think about, okay we really want to talk about this film and it would be really cool to have that object from that film, so how do we go about finding it? Does it still exist?”

The items on display come from movie studios and private collectors. Costumes in the exhibit range from Hailee Steinfeld’s costume from the 2010 remake of “True Grit” to the robot head from the 1935 science fiction Western, “The Phantom Empire.”

A highlight is the “wall of hats.” The display features cases full of various hats from different films and a wall photo collage of famous Western characters with their headgear with the title, “White hats vs. Black hats: Which would you choose?”

“Early on, I was like, ‘I’m picturing a wall of hats,’” Blume said. “We wanted to play around with the idea of a white hat and a black hat. The white hats are the good guys and black hats are the bad guys.”

In addition to the famous items, visitors can participate in the exhibit with its different interactive features.

Trailers from five different movies are played in a theatre-like setup at the front of the exhibit and guests can watch a variety of clips from films and TV shows throughout the attraction on interactive touch-screen TVs.

“You can’t do an exhibit about movies and not show them,” Blume said.

A favorite among museum-goers is the “wall of hats” showcasing a variety of hats from different Westerns. Photo by Emily Ketterer, TheStatehouseFile.com.

Guests can also create their own Western characters on a story board and make a Western film scene using magnetic characters on a western scene backdrop. As visitors exit the exhibit, they can have a photo-op with cut outs of Western film star, John Wayne and actor Jamie Foxx as Django from “Django: Unchained.”

Blume said the exhibit received a positive response from visitors after its opening.

Indianapolis resident and a longtime Western film and TV fan, Thomas Nichols said his favorite part of the  exhibit is “The Lone Ranger.”

“The exhibit was well done, very well done,” Nichols said.

Donna Femrite from Dallas, Texas said she was amazed by the large collection of items in the exhibit.

“It’s fascinating just because I love antiques and just the collection and the memorabilia,” Femrite said. “The extent of this collection is quite extraordinary.”

Western film brings a nostalgia element, Blume said.

“A lot of people are familiar with these titles,” Blume said. “A lot of people, especially the baby boomer generation, remember these from their childhoods.”

“The Reel West” exhibit will host a number of events, including Western film screenings and a Western trivia night before closing on Feb. 3, 2019.

Emily Ketterer is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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