Newly designed exhibit celebrates 30th anniversary of the Eiteljorg

By Emily Ketterer
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — “I often ask if Mr. Eiteljorg would be happy, and I think he would.” 

John Vanausdall has been president of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art for nearly 23 years, and on the museum’s 30th anniversary, he couldn’t help but think how the founder, Harrison Eiteljorg, would feel.

“He spent his lifetime collecting his art, and he did primarily for himself,” Vanausdall said. “But late in life he realized he wanted to share it with the world, especially children, so I think he’d be very excited by how we’re sharing it today.”

Eiteljorg opened the Indianapolis museum in June 1989 to house his vast personal collection of major Native and Western artwork, making it the only one of its kind in the Midwest. In 30 years, that collection has grown from 2,000 pieces to nearly 10,000 pieces of art donated and purchased by the museum.

The Eiteljorg’s new exhibit, “A Sense of Beauty” features a “whirlwind” of weavings. Photo by Emily Ketterer, TheStatehouseFile.com

“I don’t know if he could’ve imagined how many others would give their collections,” Vanausdall said.

To celebrate 30 years of history and telling the stories of the West, the Eiteljorg will host new exhibits throughout the year. The current attraction already open is the remodeled Western art galleries, “Attitudes: The West American Art,” which was one of the original exhibits the museum revamped over the summer. 

The new remodel keeps the most popular art pieces but added new interactive experiences such as touch screens to dig deeper into the art, puzzles of the paintings to put together and a workspace where kids and adults can learn the basics of art.

The newest exhibit is “A Sense of Beauty,” which opens Saturday at the museum in White River State Park on West Washington Street. The exhibition will showcase rarely-seen works of Native American art while following the theme of diversity and beauty in contemporary artwork. 

What makes this particular exhibit stand out from the rest of the Eiteljorg is the arrangement of artwork.

“The installations themselves are beautiful,” said Scott Shoemaker, curator of Native American art at the museum. “We’ve moved away from the traditional case-work.”

There are only a three glass cases in the entire exhibit while the rest of the pottery, baskets and glass-works are out in the open in assorted arrangements––something rarely seen throughout the rest of the museum.

The pottery, baskets and glass-work sit grouped together on shelves, and Shoemaker said the arrangement will give guests an opportunity to see the pieces together as one from of art and look at the different perspectives of each individual piece as well.

A highlight is the “whirlwind” of Navajo woven rugs that hang from the top of the ceiling to the floor. Shoemaker said they had to hire a professional mounter to make sure the rugs would stay attached properly. 

“It animates them, so you get to see them in three-dimensions,” Shoemaker said. “They aren’t just these flat items.”

“A Sense of Beauty” will remain open until Aug. 4. Another exhibit coming to the museum March 30 is “Bringing Friends Together: Contemporary Hopi Carvings” that will feature different carved figures from Hopi artists. 

For the future of the Eiteljorg, Vanausdall said he hopes to continue telling stories and expanding. He said he wants to focus more on bringing in Great Lakes tribe cultures because of the proximity to Indiana.

He said, “There are a lot of people with stories to tell and with very important history to share.”

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

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