Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Warps and Wefts: Adventures in Identifying Native American Basketry

    by Christa Barleben | Sep 05, 2012

    Warps and Wefts: Adventures in Identifying Native American Basketry

    Christa Barleben, Collections Cataloger

    We all own baskets, right? If we are like my mother we have about six in each room of the house, each with their own purpose. But have you ever really looked at a basket and how it is constructed?

    This summer the Eiteljorg Museum was able to host Bryn Potter, an expert in Native American baskets, to review our collection of over 500 Native American baskets. During Bryn’s three day stay, she was able to work with museum staff to better identify basket weaving techniques, the plant types used in the construction of the basket, and the types of dyes used create the beautiful colors we see in the basket designs.


    (above) Bryn Potter reviewing a group of Native American Baskets

    I fully admitted to Bryn on her first day with us, that I knew nothing about basket construction or weaving techniques (My love strays more towards beaded objects). She laughed and said I would when we were done. After three days surrounded by baskets, I came out having a new appreciation for every stitch and design in our basket collection.  Bryn passed along some very helpful tips during her time with us. I have listed a few below, that I found very interesting.

    Rod or Grass?

    Coiled baskets use plants such as willow rods and grasses, splints or roots to help form a bundle foundation. The foundation provides a support for the basket, which allows for the coils to be stitched together, forming the wall. Once the basket is finished, the foundation is often hidden. So how can you tell if you have a foundation based on rods or softer grass, roots or splints? The answer is texture. A basket based on a three-rod foundation will have a corrugated or a bumpy feeling to it, which is from the triangular shape the bundle of rods form when stitched together. A softer bundle will have a smoother surface to it, because the soft material doesn’t have the ridged shape the rods produce.


    (left) Basket, Olla. Apache, Rod Foundation, 1920-1940

    (right) Basket, Akimel O’odham, Bundle Foundation, ca. 1930

    Hat or Bowl?

    California groups, such as the Hupa and Yurok, weave dome-shaped basket caps that can be misidentified as food bowls when placed upside down. How can you tell the difference? Look for the zones in the design on the exterior of the basket. Basket caps have three-zone banding. There is one distinct zone around the crown or the top of the hat, one distinct zone around the center of the hat, and one distinct zone around the edge of the hat. If there aren’t three zones, then it is probably a bowl.


    (left) Basket Cap, Hupa, ca. 1900

    (right) Basket Bowl, Yurok, 1890-1920

    Half Twist or Full Twist?

    There are many different techniques used by weavers to create the beautiful designs that we see in their baskets.  One of the commonly used techniques is overlay or false embroidery. Overlay designs are commonly seen with twined baskets. Twining is a weaving technique in which two or more wefts. Weavers cross over each other between the warps. The color overlay design adds a third color on top of one of the wefts during the construction of the basket. When you can see the additional colored weft design on the exterior and the interior of the basket, it was produced using a full twist overlay. When the design can only been seen on the exterior of the basket, it was created using a half twist overlay.


    (left) Basket, Shasta, Half Twist Overlay, 20th Century
    (right) Basket (inside view), Klamath, Modoc, Full Twist Overlay, 1920-1940

    And because this is a blog about Native American baskets, I have picked out one of my favorites in our collection.

    Carrying Basket, Western Apache, ca. 1920

    Go comment!

  • Guides make exploring the Eiteljorg fun

    by Jaq Nigg | Aug 31, 2012

    by Cathy Burton, Beeler Family director of education


    What is an Eiteljorg Guide?
    The Education Department at the Eiteljorg runs a training program and continuing education for the guides (aka docents) who lead museum tours. As the Director of Education, I get to train the volunteers who will become the museum’s guides. The guides are a fun group of people whose commitment of time and energy to the museum is very important to the Eiteljorg’s ability to fulfill its mission. They’re an integral part of the Eiteljorg family.


    Each October, we start a new guide training class that covers museum content, touring techniques, learning styles and other topics. The best part? There’s no final exam! I’ve already met with several interesting people who’ve signed up and more are welcome. After training there are monthly meetings for continuing education. Guides are greatly needed. In fact, each year requests for guided tours increase.

    What are some the best parts about being a guide?
    ∙ Be a teacher for an hour and then say good-bye!
    ∙ Meet visitors from all over the globe.  
    ∙ Help host special events.
    ∙ Have engaging and often witty conversations with guests.
    ∙ Be part of a wonderful team who encourage, help and develop talents.
    ∙ Great guide meetings – with snacks.
    ∙ Occasional guide-focused field-trips to bison farms and other museums.
    ∙ Access to an abundance of resources focusing on the American West and Native Americans
    ∙ Discount at the cafe & gift shop.


    What do Eiteljorg guides have to say?
    Looking back over the years to my guide training and subsequent tours at the Eiteljorg, I have all positive memories. I've met so many nice people on the tours; so many talented artists (both at the Indian Market and as Artists-in-Residence); so many friendly fellow guides; and so many helpful people on staff!”


    “I've learned so much – about Native Americans and the settling of the West – that I can share with visitors of the Eiteljorg. I am focused, knowledgeable and confident – all due to the training and help I've received along the way. More information is always available pertaining to all kinds of subjects relating to Native Americans and the settlers of the West. There's always more to experience!”


    “Being an Eiteljorg guide is the next best thing to living in the Wild West - art, history and romance all in one place!”


    Are there more exciting reasons to become an Eiteljorg Guide?
    ∙ We also have a book club and knitting group.
    ∙ The monthly meetings offer intellectual stimulation.
    ∙ The chance to meet other people who have a love for the American West and Native Americans.
    ∙ It’s a great opportunity to give back to the community, especially for retired and stay-at-home folks
    looking for a part-time outlet for special talents
    ∙ Great excuse to come down to a beautiful museum often.
    ∙ Previews walk-throughs of exhibits with curators, artists and visiting experts.
    ∙ The annual guide luncheon, a swanky celebration to thank guides for time and service.
    ∙ The chance to participate in special events like Indian Market and Festival, Quest for the West and WestFest.

    Do amazing things happen on tours?
    After a tour, one guide looked like she was on Cloud Nine. She told me that the teacher in her group had been one of her high school students years ago. The former student beamed at her; introduced her to her class; and said that because of her, their guide, she had become a teacher.  Can you imagine how that felt? Guides do know the good and the differences they make. They get warm thanks and occasional fan mail. They are appreciated by visitors and the museum staff.


    How can you become a valued Eiteljorg guide?
    Maybe you or someone you know would like to join the next training program? The weekly meetings are on Mondays from October 1 through January 28. Contact Deborah Kish, our volunteer services manager, at  if you are interested in becoming part of the Eiteljorg Education Department

    Go comment!

  • Out West inspires questions and conversations

    by Jaq Nigg | Aug 30, 2012


    by Alisa Nordholt-Dean, public programs coordinator

    On Saturday, July 18, the ground-breaking Out West program series came out east to the Eiteljorg Museum. Conceived by author Gregory Hinton, this program series was created to illuminate the positive contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community to the history and culture of the American West.


    Nearly a hundred people battled the crowd downtown on Gen Con weekend to attend Out West, and they were not disappointed. Gregory Hinton was joined by guest speaker Jim Wilke, authority on the American West with a special emphasis on LGBT Western history and culture and former Autry National Center employee, as well as Eiteljorg curators James Nottage, Johanna Blume and Jennifer Complo-McNutt in presenting Out West: LGBT Hidden Histories on the big screen in the museum’s Clowes Ballroom. Colorful characters like Marsden Hartley, William Drummand Stuart and Alfred Jacob Miller were highlighted, as were LGBT examples in several Native American cultures. Following the group presentation, visitors continued the conversation amongst the artwork in the museum’s galleries.

    Out West continued with a screening of Brokeback Mountain and concluded in the evening with a staged reading of Beyond Brokeback: The Impact of a Film, made possible with collaboration from the Indiana Repertory Theater. Six actors graced the stage to interpret selected essays written by members of the Ultimate Brokeback Forum, a fan website which received more than 500,000 posts in the year after the film was released. Beyond Brokeback was adapted for the stage by Hinton and includes original music by Shawn Kirchner. The reading ended with a well deserved standing ovation – the perfect ending to a wonderful day of Out West programming.

    Mark your calendars! Out West will return to the Eiteljorg in August 2013 with a new line up of programs to make you question the stereotypical West of your imagination – don’t miss it!

    Check out the Eiteljorg podcast page for highlights.

    Go comment!

  • Sneak Preview into Out West™

    by Jaq Nigg | Aug 16, 2012
    [Editor’s note: On Saturday, Aug. 18, the Eiteljorg will host Out West, the first of several programs and exhibitions exploring the contributions of the GLBTQ community in the American West.]

    Alfred Jacob Miller and the life of William Drummond Stewart
    By Jim Wilke, independent curator and historian

    In the spring of 1837, a young artist named Alfred Jacob Miller accepted the surprising commission to accompany that year’s Rocky Mountain Fur Company caravan from the Missouri River westward to the base of the Rockies. That summer spent traveling out and back permanently changed Miller’s career, and has left us with works of art that capture far more than the ferocious grace of a Western way of life.  

    The caravan, laden with trade goods, company officials, account books and supplies, was bound for the annual rendezvous, a summer gathering of just about everyone for hundreds of miles around, where the goods were bartered for fur pelts trapped over the previous fall and spring.   

    His host and patron was William Drummond Stewart, a captain of the British army and the second son of a minor Scottish baronet biding his time through extended hunting trips following a military career. His trips through North America’s western frontier could be considered the best years of his life, spent with the pleasures of a wilderness society far removed from the social constraints of society in Great Britain. The relish of this life was the genuine and present danger that met anyone wandering in the West, within a natural setting grand beyond compare. It was immediate, sharp, and added ginger to daily life in a way that had long passed from the polite aristocracies and traditions of the European hunting preserve.  

    Stewart conducted his hunting trips as a gentleman, with the capacity of adopting regional habits when comfortable or necessary, in effect paralleling the adaptability of mountain men to the requirements of wilderness and its society. This duality of order and versatility was shared by other gentlemen traveling abroad, a habit that demonstrated taste as well the ability to retain one’s own sense of self while adapting to the fecundity of nature. “Going native” did not necessarily mean adopting the style of the locals – although some did - or becoming one of them – which some did too - but it did mean that gentlemen could adopt such habits as practical for intercourse and good relations, along with a few momentary and situational freedoms socially impossible in Great Britain. The process inevitably brought new ideas about what defined a gentleman, which seem to have been central to Stewart’s rediscovery of self during his years in America and the West. 

    Miller’s drawings, rendered in quick light strokes reflecting a kind of ease and grace inherent to mountain society in the midst of summer, present Stewart as an aristocratic sportsman, entirely at home in the wilderness. Investments in the New Orleans cotton trade had provided enough revenue to increase the size and trappings of his retinue with each season, and he became known for a perfectly tailored hunting coat of white buckskin, a buff hat with a sharply cocked feather, and a severe discipline he imposed as easily as generosity. Miller seems to have been both impressed and disconcerted at the same time, writing that Stewart could be imperious, at times frosty and hard to deal with, a “military martinet” in terms of discipline, and a man who wore grandiosity somewhat thinly on his sleeve.

    During the annual trips west Stewart dallied with Indian women at rendezvous, became fascinated by the “berdache tradition” of Two Spirit men and had a series of male relationships interspersed with women, initially with a handsome young packer the caravan men called “Beauty” and later with a German sport Stewart met while wintering in Cuba before heading West, taking a tent – for the first time in his travels - to offer them privacy. 

    By the time Miller joined the party, Stewart was traveling extensively with Antoine Michel Clement, a young Métis, or half French and half Indian man he first met at the 1833 rendezvous. An expert shot and respected hunter, Clement seems to have been the closest to matching him on something akin to equal terms and it was probably in hunting that the two men paired up most closely, where all focus was upon their prey; the two men acting instinctively as one in pursuit of their goal. Yet Miller’s drawings were careful to show Clement and all others secondary to Stewart as the center of attention, and Stewart’s social prejudices regarding civilized and savage held sway even here. It created a deeply complex and ultimately unsuccessful relationship that Stewart idealized long after they last parted, in 1845.  

    Over time, Stewart’s travels became less of an extended hunting trip and more of a way of life. Miller’s works from that summer offer a view of Stewart’s journey through that life. The leveling effect of plains life obliged Stewart to rise by his own efforts in the esteem of the men he traveled with, establish by his own efforts his rank, and ultimately enjoy his newly invented self. Time spent among the Indian aristocracy, trappers and traders established a comfortable setting that allowed him to define himself freely within the forthright society of the men he engaged with. 

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  • SkillSurvey Enjoys the Eiteljorg

    by User Not Found | Aug 15, 2012

    It’s been a dry, hot American summer, which has really put a damper on outdoor events. Yet the excruciating heat doesn’t stop the Eiteljorg from hosting a spectacular event. On Tuesday, July 24, a group from SkillSurvey, Inc., based out of Philadelphia, had planned on hosting a corporate cocktail reception that was to be in the beautiful lower gardens of the Eiteljorg along the canal. But on Monday the 23rd, the temperature was expected to be over 97 degrees on the day of the event, which makes for a miserable 5 hours outside. Thanks to the Eiteljorg policy that a client can decide by noon the day of the event whether they want it to be indoors or outdoors, the members of SkillSurvey were more than ready to alter the plans and move everything inside. By 6pm on Tuesday everything was in place for the event. The large SkillSurvey logo was shining down in lights on the floor of the entrance, beautiful blue up lights were placed around the ballroom, and Sinatra was flowing from the DJ’s speakers. All the guests were grateful for the air conditioning and extremely pleased with the beautiful ballroom that was utilized for their event.  With cocktails in Eagle Commons Hall followed by a delicious array of food stations provided by Kahn’s Catering in the ballroom, the guests were extremely satisfied with the reception.

    The Eiteljorg is a wonderful venue to hold corporate events, such as the one SkillSurvey had, and not only because the JW Marriott is conveniently located just across the road. With so many different areas of the museum to utilize, it creates a unique and memorable atmosphere to host an event. One of the aspects of the event the SkillSurvey guests greatly enjoyed was the guided tours through the museum exhibits. Since the majority of guests were from Pennsylvania, they were unfamiliar with the Eiteljorg and the type of museum it is. Thanks to three very kind volunteers at the museum, the guests of SkillSurvey were offered tours through the exhibits. They loved this portion of the event and were impressed with the array of exhibits. After a few hours of eating, drinking, touring the museum, and listening to the great music provided by Jeremy from DJ’s Direct, the guests of SkillSurvey walked back across the street to the JW Marriott filled with new knowledge of American Indians and Western Art, as well as delicious Kahn’s Catering food.

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