Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Unlock the mystery of the totem pole

    by Cathy Burton, Eiteljorg Director of Education | Aug 19, 2013

    Marmon Family Totem Pole 

    Author Richard Feldman, M.D. will be in Indy Tuesday, Aug. 19, talking about his new book, Home before the Raven Caws: The Mystery of a Totem Pole

    In 1903, a collection of totem poles were removed from Sitka National Historical Park. The 15 poles were sent to the 1904 World’s Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition, in Saint Louis. One pole was damaged and moved to another part of the fair. At the end of the fair 13 poles were sent back to Alaska, as promised to the Native Alaskans.  One pole went to the Milwaukee Public Museum. The repaired pole was sold and people lost track of it and thought it was missing. Dr. Feldman discovered that the missing pole was given to David Parry of Indianapolis  and it was placed in the Golden Hill neighborhood in 1905. The pole was the namesake for “Totem Lane” and eventually rotted and fell, in 1939. Dr. Feldman continued the Totem Pole Project research and raised community interest in bringing a new pole to Indianapolis. One of the delightful chapters in the story was to find out that the carver for the new pole, Lee Wallace, was the great-grandson of the original carver.  

    While visiting R.B. Annis Western Family Experience on the Canal level of the Eiteljorg Museum, young people can see a totem pole and build their own using various symbols.

    The Native Haida family who owned the right to tell their ancestral story, the Yeltatsie Family, allowed their story to be carved on the new pole. While not an exact replica, the totem pole, inside at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, carries the same story as the original, the story of Wasgo the sea monster, or what the Haida people would call a sea wolf.

    Dr. Feldman will speak about the tale of the missing pole and how it ended up in Indiana. His talk will be  in the Multipurpose Room at the Indiana Historical Society tomorrow from Noon to 1 p.m. The Historical Society is located at 450 West. Ohio, downtown Indianapolis.

    You’re encouraged to buy or bring in your lunch to enjoy during their Author Series.

    Cathy Burton
    Director of education

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  • Create experiences for our visitors | Train to become an Eiteljorg Guide

    by Amy Baum Goodwin, Eiteljorg guide | Aug 14, 2013


    After wanting to volunteer at the Eiteljorg for a long time, this past year I signed up to become a guide, not knowing exactly what to expect.  Soon I was learning about the art and artifacts that Harrison Eiteljorg carefully collected on his trips to New Mexico and Colorado.  Because of his tremendous collection and the continued work of the museum, anyone who visits the Eiteljorg is transported to the American West or to another time, immersed in the architecture, the painted and sculpted images of the West and the artifacts created by people who mastered the possibilities of resources available to them.

    The guide course, led by Cathy Burton,the museum’s director of education, explores many aspects of the collection, such as the variety of materials used to create the art and artifacts on display, how those works were made, and the history surrounding them. We discovered the multitude of uses for a bison and a whale, the way that porcupine quills are collected and prepared to make intricate, detailed work on baskets or on leather, and the variety of grasses available in different regions of North America to create baskets or hats or to build homes.

    male guide

    Guides create their own tours, selecting the works that most interest them and that they think visitors might want to know more about. After the course concludes, guides continue meeting each month to discuss new exhibits and events at the museum and listen to speakers on various relevant topics.

     Taking on this challenge has been exciting because I get the chance to step out of my routine and frequently talk with people of different ages about topics that truly interest me. Giving a tour initiates a conversation with visitors, and that brings the West and the history of American Indians to life for them and for me as well.

    On one of my first tours, I discussed the “three sisters”, the agricultural process of growing corn, beans and squash together in a mound. The three plants benefit each other when grown this way. After showing the sixth-grade group I was guiding an illustration of the three plants growing together, one student responded, “I had read about that, but I never understood it before.”That is what makes being a guide so rewarding.

    Guide training is held just once a year. For more information on how to become a museum guide please contact Deborah Kish at or (317)275-1325. 
    Amy Baum Goodwin

    Guides pictured above:
                   Linda Maguire
                   Herma Compton
                   Dr. Paul Schneider

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  • TWO SPIRITS film about the short life and murder of Navajo teen to be screened at the Eiteljorg

    by DeShong Perry-Smitherman, Eiteljorg public relations manager | Aug 07, 2013

    Two Spirits
    In June 2001, the body of 16-year-old Navajo teenager Fred Martinez was found on a dirt road in the Southwest Colorado town of Cortez. Martinez had been bludgeoned beyond recognition by a man who had bragged about the crime, according to an anonymous tip.

    Martinez was the victim of a hate crime. He never considered himself gay or transgendered. Instead, he identified himself as nádleehí (nod-lay), which is a Navajo term defined as a male-bodied person who has a feminine essence. That term in English is “Two Spirit.”

    On Saturday, Sep. 28, the documentary "Two Spirits" will be viewed at the Eiteljorg, followed by a panel discussion. The film is about Martinez’s brief life and tragic murder. We talked with director Lydia Nibley and Out West curator Gregory Hinton about the film and why they’ve chosen the Eiteljorg to show it.

    EITELJORG: What does the term “Two-Spirit” mean?
    LYDIA: On nearly every continent, and for all of recorded history, thriving cultures have recognized, revered, and integrated people who have more than two genders. Terms such as “transgender” and “gay” are strictly new constructs that assume there are only two sexes (male/female), just two sexualities (gay/straight), and only two genders (man/woman).Yet hundreds of distinct societies around the globe have their own long-established traditions for third, fourth, fifth, or even more genders.

    Fred Martinez, the subject of the film "Two Spirits," was not a boy who wanted to be a girl, but both a boy and a girl. Most Western societies have no direct correlation for this Native Two-Spirit tradition, nor for the many other communities without strict either/or conceptions of sex, sexuality, and gender. Worldwide, the sheer variety of gender expression is almost limitless.

    The term “Two-Spirit” was recently created by Native people as a short, useful phrase in English that could begin to represent concepts that are much more nuanced and complex, and that are represented in over 200 Native languages.

    EITELJORG: What will people learn from the film?

    LYDIA: We hope people take away a new appreciation for the richness of gender. Fred was considered to have a special gift according to his ancient Navajo culture. If he had lived, he could have participated in multiple roles in sacred ceremonies, counseled couples, offered insight as a matchmaker, expressed gifts as a medicine person. But the place where two discriminations meet is a dangerous place to live, and Fred became one of the youngest hate-crime victims in modern history when he was brutally murdered at 16. "Two Spirits" interweaves the tragic story of a mother’s loss of her son with a revealing look at a time when the world wasn’t simply divided into male and female and many Native American cultures held places of honor for people of integrated genders. We hope the story of Fred and other Two-Spirit people in history and in contemporary life inspires people to think and feel differently about what is possible. To embrace all of the human family because as the Navajo/Diné say, “we’re all the five-fingered people.”
    EITELJORG: Why show "Two Spirits" at the Eiteljorg?

    GREG: The Eiteljorg is a great place to have complex conversations. With its innovative public programming, your museum is a leader in offering socially relevant programs that expand imagination and promote respectful, intellectual discourse. The film team is thrilled to screen "Two Spirits" in this legendary institution as a way of linking the past and present, and we hope that having sophisticated conversations around gender can help us all shape a more equitable and humane future.

    EITELJORG: What does this film do for LGBT or Two-Spirit teenagers who are at risk for bullying or violence?

    LYDIA: We hope "Two Spirits" moves attitudes from mere tolerance, or acceptance, to a celebration of LGBT and Two-Spirit people. The film demonstrates how people who express multiple genders contribute to their families, friends, and communities not in spite of, but because of who they are. That’s a big change. It’s about same sex unions having been honored for thousands of years. It’s about a natural spectrum of gender. It’s about respecting who people really are and what they have to contribute. Like when a young person comes out to their traditional Native grandmother and her response is, “Oh, my friends will be so jealous!” That’s what we hope people experience: that shift.

    EITELJORG: How does "Two Spirits" open hearts and minds?

    LYDIA: It’s one thing to learn that many tribes have multiple genders and much more connective to see the story of one particular life and to feel empathy and understanding for someone like Fred while seeing him through the eyes of his mother. Any time we can get out of our own heads and into someone else’s experience, our own understanding expands. Perhaps that’s why "Two Spirits" was the highest-rated film of the 2010-2011 season, and received the Audience Award from PBS-Independent Lens. The film introduces viewers to the amazing ways traditional Navajo people express gender, takes them into the world of contemporary world of Two-Spirit people, and shows how this richer view of gender has always been with us and can be reclaimed.

    EITELJORG: What is the lasting message this film leaves for its viewers?

    Between tradition and controversy, sex and spirit, and freedom and fear, lives the truth—the bravest choice you can make is to be yourself.

    EITELJORG: Is there an opportunity for people to get involved in getting the message out?
    LYDIA: We’re working to place the film in more colleges, universities, high schools, and libraries and are seeking funding from individual philanthropists and foundations to make that possible. Any help is welcome! Imagine a world that isn’t simply divided into male and female, where it’s safe for people to be who they are. Please join us to make the film more widely available by making a contribution and by sharing it in person, online, and in every way you can. 

    About Out West
    Out West was conceived by author and independent curator Gregory Hinton. Hinton created the program series to illuminate positive contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community to the history and culture of the American West. 

    Support LGBT Programming at the Eiteljorg
    Donate to  

    Help support the screening and discussion of the powerful film, TWO SPIRITS, an acclaimed PBS Independent Lens documentary that tells the story of the brief life and tragic murder of transgender Navajo teen, Fred Martinez. The film, including a panel discussion, will take place at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 28.

    To donate to this project, click Power2Give.  Chase Bank will contribute one dollar for every dollar donated. To learn more about the film visit the website:


    12:30 p.m.                Welcome by Gregory Hinton, Out West founder
    12:45 p.m.                "Two Spirits" film screening
    1:45 – 3:30 p.m.       Panel discussion
    3:30 p.m.                  DVD/book signing Eiteljorg Museum Store

    Moderator: Jodi A. Byrd, Ph.D. (Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma), associate professor of American Indian Studies and English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
    Lydia Nibley, director, "Two Spirits"

    Brian Joseph Gilley, Ph.D.
    , associate professor of anthropology and director of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, Indiana University Bloomington; author of Becoming Two-Spirit

    Wesley K. Thomas, Ph.D., chair/professor, School of Diné Studies, Education & Leadership, Navajo Technical College (Crownpoint, NM)
    Photo credits:
    - "Two Spirits" poster from film festivals
    - Navajo same sex couple, photographer Bosque Redondo 1866, Museum of New Mexico
    - Two-Spirit dancers prepare
    - Lydia Nibley's headshot
    - Photographs were given to us by Lydia Nibley

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  • Eiteljorg Insider | 5 Questions with James Nottage

    by Jaq Nigg, Eiteljorg festivals and markets manager | Aug 05, 2013
    As vice president and chief curatorial officer, James has oversight of the Curatorial, Collections and Exhibitions departments. This means planning and administration for the development of all the collections and their care and overall planning for exhibitions and related publications. He also serves as the Gund Curator of Western Art, History and Culture, developing exhibits, publications and the collections related to traditional art of the American West. 

    James Nottage
    James next to Bartering for a Bride by Alfred Jacob Miller

    Favorite piece of art at the Eiteljorg
    : Are you really going to make me pick just one?  Certainly, one of my favorites is Ernest Blumenshein’s The Plaster. It is beautifully painted. Then again, our beaded James Bay Cree hood is rare and quite special.  Or, how about Alfred Jacob Miller’s 1847 oil painting, Bartering for a Bride? Or, maybe . . .

    1. What inspires you?
    Great art and literature are at the top of the list. People who are devoted to important causes are as well. Beauty in nature is there too. I could go on and on.

    2. If you could have any piece of art in the world in your home, what would it be? Being a typical curator, I can’t imagine having just one! Let’s see. Maybe I would like . . . No, how about . . . Oh, wait a minute, wouldn’t . . . Oh, boy. This is a tough question. Oh, I know:  Claude Monet’s Waterlillies, 1926. Now, ask me again and it will be something else.

    3. If you weren’t a museum curator, what would you do?
    I was first intrigued by museums in the 4th grade and decided to be a museum curator when I was in high school. I have not been able to get out of the game since. I enjoy doing free-lance writing and would be challenged by teaching. 

     4. Do you collect anything? 
     really am not a collector in an organized way. You might say that I accumulate books on Western art and the history of the West and I accumulate a lot of music, mostly blues, jazz, swing and American roots music. 

     5. If you could invite any artist to dinner, who would it be and why?
    In the work I do as a curator, I often have this opportunity to interact with many of my favorite artists. The individuals it would be nice to connect with are the painters and sculptors who are no longer living. I’d love to spend time with George Catlin, talking about his 1830s trips to the West. A. P. Proctor would be interesting to be with, talking about his sculptures and techniques. Oh, and Thomas Moran in his later years would be good company, discussing how the art world changed during his career and what kept him inspired.

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  • Tweens and teens to rock out at the Eiteljorg this Saturday afternoon

    by Girls Rock! Indianapolis guest blogger | Aug 02, 2013

    Girls Rock! Indianapolis recently completed its fourth camp season. The week-long camp culminated in a showcase of over 70 girls between the ages of 8 and 16 singing and rocking out on guitar, drum and bass in front of a packed crowd of almost 400 fans. Many of the girls had never picked up an instrument before attending Girls Rock! camp, but their pride in showing off their new found abilities made that theater electric.

    While it may be tough for some people to list more than a handful of influential female musicians, women have left an indelible mark on the heart of rock 'n' roll. Early female rockers Wanda Jackson, Maybelle Carter, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe heavily influenced more iconic male musicians including Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley.

    Providing campers with an understanding of women's place in music history is one of the focuses of Girls Rock! camp  That's one of the many reasons that we are so excited to partner with the Eitlejorg for Girls Rock! Day at the museum  on Saturday, Aug. 3. 

    We've seen first-hand how getting girls excited about music and self-expression builds their confidence and influences their interactions with others. In a world that's filled with media messages that tell girls how they should look, what they should wear, and how they should think, the empowerment that music gives them is more important now than ever.  

    The Eitlejorg's "Guitars! Roundups to Rockers" includes a number of exhibit pieces that are of interest to female rockers including guitars owned by Patsy Montana, who was the first country music female to have a milion-selling hit single, and riot grrrl band Sleater Kinney

    Girls Rock! Day at the Eiteljorg runs from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Aug. 3. There will be a musical "petting zoo," complete with guitar, bass and a drum kit for hands on experimentation guided by Girls Rock! volunteers. Stop by, try out the instruments, and form your own flash band. During the afternoon, Girls Rock! volunteers and campers will perform and be available to talk about camp, its history, and upcoming events. Visitors can also make their own rock 'n' roll inspired buttons as a take-away to remember the day.

    Girls Rock! Indianapolis is a non-profit organization, founded in 2009, dedicated to building positive self-esteem in girls and encouraging creative expression through music. Our music education programs provide girls with an oPpportunity to participate in an environment that fosters leadership, encourages social change, and cultivates a supportive community of female peers and mentors. The Girls Rock! program began in Portland, Oregon and similar programs now run in Austin, Seattle, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, Paris, Iceland, Brazil, and other cities many other cities in countries around the globe.  

    For more information, visit

    Photos courtesy: Paul D'Andrea, Sarah Boutwell and s.Jane Mils.
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