Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • "But what about Van Halen?" A peek at how we assembled GUITARS

    by Johanna Blume, Assistant Curator of Western Art | May 30, 2013

    guitars on display
     Guitars! Roundups to Rockers runs through Aug. 4 at the Eiteljorg Museum.

    It’s hard to believe Guitars! has been open for nearly three months! Since the opening, it’s been great to watch visitors interact with the exhibit, and to hear their comments and feedback. One oft-asked question is why we don’t have certain guitars in the exhibit. There are many reasons why you’ll see some guitars when you visit the Eiteljorg, and just as many reasons why you won’t find others. It's a complicated process that involves hunting, hoping, rejection and triumphs!

    THE HUNT...

    As a curator, I hunt for objects to include in an exhibit. Our team began with a dream list of all the guitars we would include if we had our pick of every guitar ever made. There were literally hundreds of guitars on that list, spanning time periods, geography, and genre. Of course, all exhibits are produced within limits on the time, budget, and space. So while our dream list was quite expansive, we knew we couldn’t accommodate every one of those guitars. And there was never any guarantee we’d even be able to find, let alone secure many of those instruments as loans. Obtaining an object for an exhibit is a complicated, multi-step process that requires finding the objects through research, filling out detailed loan paperwork, and arranging for objects located around the country to be shipped here to Indianapolis. It took more than a year for our dedicated exhibit team to work through all of these steps.

    We spent months running down leads in the hope of securing guitars representing greats like Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Billy Gibbons, Eddie Van Halen, and Joni Mitchell. In some cases, we were never able to make contact with an artist in order to make “the ask.” But even when we did connect, the answer wasn’t always “yes.” Many artists use all of their guitars on a regular basis. To be parted from them, even for six months, was not possible. In some cases, important guitars are held by other museums and are crucial components of their own exhibits and programs. And some guitars have simply disappeared over time.

    But for all of the dead ends, “No ways!” and missed connections, there were just as many triumphs. One of my most exciting moments came when I stumbled across the email address for the management company of the band The Decemberists. I’d been hoping to include one of their guitars in order to talk about guitar music today, and the thriving music scenes in the Pacific Northwest.

                                              G&L Electric Guitar; Loan courtesy of Chris Funk.

    It seemed like a long shot, but I wrote up a request detailing what the exhibit was about, and sent it. After all, the answer is always no until you ask. Within two hours I’d received a warm note from their manager expressing Chris Funk’s enthusiasm for the project and willingness to loan a guitar. While  it took time to finalize the details of the loan and shipping, we had the guitar confirmed by the end of the week. As you can see from the picture, I was excited to finally unpack Chris Funk's guitar! 

    That’s just one example of how we obtained the instruments you’ll find in Guitars! We were incredibly fortunate to work with private collectors and museums over the course of our search. There wouldn’t be an exhibit without their willingness to loan the amazing objects you’ll find in the gallery. While the process certainly had its ups and downs, I’ve never had as much fun working on an exhibit as I have had with Guitars! In the end, we hope that we can create engaging, exciting exhibits that appeal to our visitors and deepen their appreciation of the art, history, and cultures of the American West.

    Johanna Blume
    Assistant Curator of Western Art

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  • Inside Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival: How artists are selected

    by Jaq Nigg, Eiteljorg festival and events manager | May 27, 2013
    Indian Market includes an evening opening party and two full days of performances, food, cultural activities and, of course, art sales. We always point out that artists must be Native American and selected into the show, but what exactly does that mean?

    Artist: Darance Chimerica (Hopi)

    Being “Indian”
    Artists have to show a tribal enrollment card or an authorized letter from their tribe to prove they’re Indian. There’s a law. The Arts and Crafts Act of 1990, enforced by the U.S. Department of the Interior, was introduced to protect Indian artists from non-Indians trying to capitalize on their cultures by making it illegal to offer for sale any product that falsely suggests it is Indian produced. Legally, “Indian” is defined as “a member of any federally or state recognized tribe or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by a recognized tribe.” There are uncomfortable gray areas involving historical tribes that are no longer legally recognized. An example close to home is the Miami Indians of Indiana. Simply put, organizations like the Eiteljorg have to follow the law.

    Artist: Judy Tafoya (Santa Clara Pueblo)

    The fun part: artist selection
    Each February, a crack team gathers to review a couple thousand slides representing all of the artists hoping to be selected to Market. The team is made up of Eiteljorg curators, a jury of experts in Native art and the Eiteljorg festivals team (you know, to order coffee and bring snacks). Artwork is judged for craftsmanship and originality. The selectors must assign a score from one to five, without the option of a three. Over the years, I’ve learned so much just listening. Toward the end of the day discussions can get silly, but most offer master-class-level commentary on art, history and cultures. I am lucky to be a fly on that wall.

    Artist: Dallin Maybee (Northern Arapaho/Seneca)

    Math is Hard
    Once the selectors have done their work, I tabulate the scores for each division. We get more submissions in some categories than in others so we use a curve. For example, a higher percentage of jewelry artists apply so they must receive higher scores to be accepted. It’s a very selective process and many great artists don’t make the cut. We encourage those artists to try again.

    Artist: Ernest Benally (Navajo/Diné)

    What comes next?
    We work all year on Market, but once the artist letters go out, the countdown really begins. They keep us on our toes with questions and suggestions. They want the market to be successful and prosperous for themselves and for us. We do everything that we can to make sure they are taken care of. I always say one of my favorite parts of the market is that, although the artists are our guests, the Eiteljorg and the artists come together to host our visitors.

    Don’t miss your chance to meet this year’s selected artists on June 22-23 in Military Park! For more details, visit the festivals and events section of our website.  

    Artist: Marty Gradolf (Winnebago of Nebraska)

    See you there!
    Jaq Nigg
    Eiteljorg festival and events manager

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  • What Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band promises to do at the Eiteljorg June 1

    by DeShong Perry-Smitherman, Eiteljorg public relations manager | May 22, 2013

                                                             Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band
                                                                    Performs at 7:30, June 1
                                                                     at the Eiteljorg Museum

    A blast of hillbilly passion and Delta blues will captivate audience members when Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band hits the stage NEXT Saturday, June 1 at  7 p.m., here at the Eiteljorg.

    The group known for its incendiary live shows promises to bring the heat - with a ferocious blues explosion never before seen inside the walls of any museum. Roaring out of the southern Indiana foothills, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, plays a brand of Americana and Blues music that stands alone. The band’s new album, “Between The Ditches,” chronicles their Indiana roots.

    "I love guitars,” says the good Reverend. “The guitar has shaped my whole life, and given me a career where I get to travel the world and play music… I know it is a museum, but wine and cheese crowd be warned. We still plan to rock the place!" And because Reverend Peyton plays everything - from a 1930s National guitar to a cigar box, his act fits right in with the museum’s Guitars! exhibit.

    “I am going to be performing songs in honor of the exhibit from my personal collection of rare, vintage, and custom guitars,” he says.  Here are the details about the June 1 show:

    Attendees must be 21 and older
    $15 general admission
    $10 Eiteljorg Museum members
    Tickets may be purchased by calling the museum at 317-636-9378.

    Photo credits: Scott Toepfer and Bill Steber

    According to their website, the Rev. J. Peyton, his wife Breezy and distant cousin Aaron “Cuz” Persinger, who make up the trio, are a living breathing embodiment of the traditions and hard work ethic native to their Brown County, Ind., home. Their June 1 concert will fill the museum with music that celebrates the growl of a good truck engine, passion for their country upbringing and the importance of family.

    Hope to see you at the concert for a hillbilly good time!

    DeShong Perry-Smitherman
    Eiteljorg public relations manager


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  • 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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  • The Fuss Over Fry Bread at Indian Market

    by Claire Quimby, Eiteljorg festivals and markets intern | May 15, 2013

    “It’s one in the morning, and I’m awake, thinking about frybread…”
    – from Frybread Dreams, a poem by Richard Walker

    Frybread picture from -

    If you’ve ever been to any Native American event, you’re probably familiar with fry bread. If you’ve never tasted it, you are truly missing out. Fry bread is just what its name implies… dough that is fried in oil to create a puffy, delicious bread. Fry bread can be a sweet treat or the foundation of “Indian tacos,” topped with ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and salsa/chile.

    Images from and


    Every year at Indian Market and Festival, people happily wait in line at the Indian taco truck (rain or shine) for their fry bread fix. It’s so popular; the Eiteljorg staff looks forward to it each year as one of the highlights of the whole event.

    people wait in line at indian market for their frybread fix!

    Most of us agree that fry bread is super tasty. But the fuss over fry bread isn’t just about taste. It’s about history, tradition, survival and love.

    According to Frybread by Jen Miller (Smithsonian Magazine, July 2008), the origins of fry bread date back to 1864 and the Long Walk of the Diné (Navajo), when the U.S. government forcibly relocated thousands of Native Americans from their lands in Arizona to New Mexico. Removed from their traditional sources of food, the Diné had to rely on meager government rations. Many died of starvation. Fry bread was a food of survival, created from a few simple ingredients that the Diné had access to: flour, lard, baking powder, salt, water and powdered milk. For many Native Americans fry bread is a reminder of the conditions their ancestors endured, and how they created something from nothing to live another day.

    Many foods evoke strong feelings and memories, but you would be hard-pressed to find a better example than fry bread. Fry bread fans have created facebook pages, websites, poems, stories and cooking competitions. Most agree that love is a critical ingredient. How else would you turn rations and suffering into a food of survival and celebration?

    Fry bread is loved, but it has also been criticized. In an article in Indian Country Today, Suzan Shown Harjo railed against fry bread for the sorrowful history it represents, for its high calorie count, and for being a poor substitution for many other traditional Native American breads. Despite calories and history, however, Native America is still a strong supporter of fry bread, mockumentary film dedicated to it.

    Either in spite of its difficult history or because of it, the lines in front of the fry bread truck, during the Eiteljorg's Indian Market & Festival June 22 and 23, will continue to form this summer. No Native American gathering would be the same without it. 

    2013 indian market flyer

    Claire Quimby
    Eiteljorg festival and markets intern

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