Eiteljorg Musuem Blog

How we got such remarkable images for our Guitars exhibit

by Elena Rippel, Eiteljorg curatorial intern | May 20, 2013

Guitars! gallery
From this angle, there’s a great contrast between the proper Victorian guitarist
and the high-energy Nancy Wilson.

When I started my internship with the Eiteljorg's curatorial department last August, I was looking forward to learning more about the curatorial process by working on Guitars! Roundups to Rockers.  Now, looking back on these past months, I’ve not only received quite an education on guitars and 20th century popular music, but also gained valuable practical experience.

One of the main things I’ve learned is that creating an exhibit is truly a collaborative effort.  Besides all the work the Eiteljorg staff put in to creating and publicizing the exhibit, there were many outside collectors and institutions that we depended on to even have an exhibit in the first place!   While the curators were working out loan agreements for the great selection of guitars on display, I was busy tracking down images to illustrate them.

You might be aware of all of the digitization efforts many archives and libraries have gone through in past years to put collections online.  As a history student, it was fun to go through the online photo collections of institutions like the Denver Public Library or Los Angeles Public Library searching for people playing guitars.  (I encourage browsing through historical photos; you never know what you’ll run across).  Through these databases we were able to find many of the photographs you’ll find in the exhibit. 

Each of the images on this label came from a different source.

However, tracking down photographs of specific musicians playing the guitars on display could be more difficult, especially keeping our budget in mind.  I enjoyed talking with various archivists and photographers, both amateur and professional, across the country on the search for fitting images.  Even CD covers and advertisements could help tell the story of Western guitarists.  Photo acquisition had its share of obstacles with image sizes and delayed orders, but in the end, everything managed to come together.

If you’ve been to Guitars! Roundups and Rockers you’ve probably noticed the photo murals throughout the gallery.  In lieu of objects, photos can illustrate stories (so if we didn’t have a guitar of Nancy Wilson, at least we had an awesome photo of her) and show a diversity of experiences. 

(Left- Chris Knutsen Harp Guitar, 1898-1900, Loan courtesy of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, Vermillion)
(Right - The Knutsen Family, 1900, Courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society – Port Townsend, Washington)

What I most like about the images we ended up choosing though is that they place the guitars in context.  I can imagine Chris Knutsen and his wife playing duets on harp guitar, the electric energy of a grunge concert, or a chill moment of strumming to friends on the streets of San Francisco. 

guitars gallery photo book
Guitars! photo book

Do you have any favorite images from the exhibit?  As is often the case, many great photos didn’t make the cut to appear on the walls and labels, so make sure you check out the photo books for more! 

Elena Rippel
Eiteljorg curatorial intern
(The guitar Elena's holding is now in the galleries for all to play.)

By the way, you can check out more than 100 guitars—owned by greats including Roy Rogers, Charlie Christian, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Woody Guthrie, Buddy Holly, Les Paul and others—during Guitars! Roundups to Rockers, at The Eiteljorg Museum through August 4. The exhibit explores the Western connections of guitars and artists who have provided the soundtrack for America. 



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