Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Pretty things

    by Jaq Nigg | Jun 19, 2012

    Indian Market and Festival is an exciting time for the Eiteljorg staff and, dare I say, Indianapolis. There's a family reunion atmosphere with the artists, all lovely people and mind bogglingly talented. There are Indian tacos to be enjoyed and dazzling performances to watch. Of course, there is also the shopping. Since working for not-for-profit and being a big time art collector don’t generally go hand in hand, over the years I’ve purchased a couple small things that have special meaning to me: a necklace from Mary Tafoya (Santo Domingo), a ring from Veronica Benally (Navajo/Diné), a bentwood box from David A. Boxley (Tsimshian). It is not uncommon, come Sunday afternoon of market, to find myself doing what I call Indian Market Math, which is me trying to figure out how to afford something well beyond my means. That’s why it’s extra exciting this year that we have two book signings on Saturday that will allow me to have something pretty to look at without breaking the bank.

    Contemporary Native American Artists
    Author Suzanne Deats and photographer Kitty Leaken

    This book lovingly captures some of the finest Native American southwestern artists and their artwork. Many of the top artists of the Native American art world are brought together through stunning photography and intimate portrayals of their lives and art. There’s no other way to say it: It’s gorgeous.

    The really cool thing is that many of the featured artists are regulars at our market and will sign the book along with Deats and Leaken. Jody Naranjo, Joe Cajero, Jr., Althea Cajero, Adrian Wall, Penny Singer, Melanie Kirk-Lente and Michael Lente will all be here, plus a special guest appearance by Kevin Red Star! That list kind of blows me away. These are some of the top Native artists working today. They signify the past, present and future of the American Indian art world.

     Native American Bolo Ties–Vintage and Contemporary Artistry
    by Diana Pardue with Norman L. Sandfield and published in association with the Heard Museum

    Okay, I didn’t know that states could adopt official neckwear. But it doesn’t surprise me that Arizona, New Mexico and Texas were the first to do so. Those people are serious about their western wear. They’ve borrowed the bolo tie from their grandpas and are bringing it back in style.

    Native American Bolo Ties is a fun book that explores the history and revival of the bolo tie, which represents the casual nature and rugged image of the West. Bolos emerged in the 1940s to counter the formality of business suits. Native American artists began producing bolo ties at the height of America’s fascination with cowboy and western culture.

     This is the first time that the variety of Native American made bolo ties has been featured in a publication. Collector Norman L Sandfield will be here to talk about the history and artistry of bolo ties and he’ll showcase pieces from his own collection. He’ll present examples of bolo ties – both vintage and contemporary – created by Native American artists. Some are whimsical, some exquisitely beautiful. All of them – incorporating a variety of styles and materials – are fun.



    Go comment!

  • "Axes" and aliens at the Experience Music Project

    by Johanna Blume | Jun 19, 2012
    So for those of you who don’t know, next spring we’ll be unveiling a new special exhibit about guitars in the American West. The exhibit team is already hard at work researching content for the exhibit. Part of that involves seeking out potential guitars to feature in the show. Earlier this month, I made the trek to Seattle, Washington, to visit the Experience Music Project (EMP) and check out their exhibits and collection. As much as I’ve wanted to see the EMP, and as many times as I’ve been to Seattle, I had never had a chance to visit until now. I was blown away.

    The EMP has an impressive collection of guitars. It covers more than 150 years of guitar building innovation, and features many instruments previously played or owned by some of the greatest players in history. Since the Eiteljorg Museum doesn’t collect guitars, we have to look elsewhere for pieces to feature in our upcoming exhibit. That process involves identifying key collections around the country, evaluating those collections for specific pieces of interest to us, and then going through the lending institution’s loan process. Of course, these institutions have exhibit needs of their own, so it’s always possible that not every guitar that is of interest to us will actually be available for us to borrow. So, no promises that you’ll see any of the guitars below in our exhibit next year, but they were just too cool not to show you.

    We’re hopeful we’ll have at least one of Kurt Cobain’s guitars. This is the Blue Fender Mustang that he played on the 1993-1994 In Utero tour. The exhibit will take a broad view of guitars in the American West, covering a wide spectrum of types of guitars, genres, players, and geography.

    1953 Paul Bigsby custom guitar made for bandleader, Hezzy Hall. 

    1984 custom Kramer played by Eddie Van Halen.

    Not a guitar, but with "Prometheus" opening recently and if we’ve got any Ridley Scott fans out there... I give you the Xenomorph from the 1979 film Alien, designed by H.R. Giger. (The EMP also houses the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and Museum.)

    All in all, it was an excellent visit. The EMP staff was so helpful, and things are looking great for our exhibit. Stay tuned over the coming months for more details on the exhibit.

      Johanna Blume, assistant curator of Western Art


  • The Git Hoan experience

    by Jaq Nigg | Jun 18, 2012

    For some reason, the goose down always makes me giggle. As it fills the air then settles on and around the audience, I can’t stop smiling. The audience is told that the floating down is a statement of peace and, in that moment, it makes perfect sense. In their regalia and intricately carved masks, the dancers share that sense of peace as they share their culture. Performances by the Git Hoan Dancers are experiences. And, although I’ve been lucky to be part of the audience for smaller versions of the group here in Indy, it’s been over fourteen years since the Eiteljorg has hosted a large Northwest Coast dance group. I’m beyond excited to finally see the whole group at this year’s Indian Market and Festival.

    Led by world-renowned Tsimshian carver and culture bearer David A. Boxley, the members of Git Hoan Dancers share a commitment to preserving cultural traditions. They perform songs and dances of the Tsimshian people from the Pacific coastal areas of northern British Columbia and southeastern Alaska. Boxley has been a leader in the effort to reclaim, revive and recreate Tsimshian cultural practices that were nearly eradicated in the late 1800s in an effort of forced cultural assimilation. Since many traditional songs were lost, Git Hoan performs original compositions that are influenced by the old songs. Boxley says, “Artists from long ago inspire new generations of Indians to carry on traditions. I am determined and dedicated to help revitalize and carry on the rich culture of my tribe: I want my sons and other young Indian people to be proud of their heritage.”

    All of this is done with a sense of honor and fun. Git Hoan is especially fond of performing for children, who are enraptured by the animal stories told in the songs and dances about the killer whale, deer and raven. Okay, not just children. Adults are pretty enraptured, too. By the time the goose down flies, creating a fluffy white wonderland, I know I will have jumped in surprise at the snapping raven; gasped in amazement at the artistry of the masks; learned a good lesson from an animal story and laughed as the dancers teach kids some of their moves.

    Go comment!

  • Beads for the Sole

    by James Nottage | Jun 14, 2012
    Are you aware that there are Plains moccasins that have fully beaded soles? It was more than a few decades ago when during my childhood I was told that these were "burial moccasins."  The truth is that this is a myth. One historian tells us that these were first observed in the 1870s on the bodies of Sioux found in burials after battles.  As a result the myth grew.  There is truth that it was common to dress the deceased in the finest way possible.  For a long time, we have known that these moccasins were not identified by the cultures themselves as having been made for burial purposes. The cost of materials, the effort to create and the status that came from such fine belongings was a matter more of stature and material wealth.  Within a burial they were also a sign of respect.

    It has been demonstrated that these moccasins had no special religious or spiritual meaning. Certainly, the fact that there are so many extant examples strongly suggests that the decoration of the soles was for the living, and not the special accompaniment for souls. Let us take a look at a couple of examples from the collection that help to counter the idea that these were for burial.  

    Cheyenne moccasins worn by a young girl, 1930s-40sThe child's moccasins illustrated here were worn by a Cheyenne girl, perhaps eight to ten years of age.  We do not know much about her, but they date from the 1930s or 1940s and the brooch with the portrait of a young woman has been interpreted as the owner a little later in life.  It could be that this person was the mother and she lovingly made the moccasins for the child. There is no reason to doubt that the original wearer lived much longer and clearly they show few signs of wear, a sign that they were outgrown quickly. 

    One of the primary reasons why some people accept the idea of fully beaded moccasins as "burial" items is that in European cultures is difficult to contemplate the idea that someone would actually wear or walk on the beaded surface.  Someone has contended, as recorded by historian James Hansen, that "the beads were an offering of beauty to the ground, the bosom of Mother Earth."  I agree with Hansen.  This is romantic nonsense.  Note also that similar moccasins were decorated not just with beads, but also with dyed porcupine quills as well.  

    Lakota moccasins, about 1910 Note heavy wear evident in the loss of beads and the worn texture of the leatherThe second pair of moccasins featured here give eloquent testimony that they were worn.  Dating from about 1910, these Lakota moccasins are handsomely adorned with white, blue, yellow, and two tones of green glass beads.  Missing beads and wear to the leather at the balls of the feet and around the toes is evidence that the wearer was accustomed to walking not with the heel first, but with the ball of the foot first.  These belonged to a Lakota man who walked with pride, wearing beautifully decorated moccasins that are an expression of a thoughtful maker and of the owner's sense of self and his stature.

    Perhaps the point is that the best examples of fully beaded Plains moccasins were generally created with great care and attention to the details of design, pattern, and color.  They are not as uncommon as you might expect, but they are worthy of our attention.  If they show wear, we can contemplate how they were used. We can consider them as expressions of pride and stature. We can appreciate them as representations of fine Plains bead work that flourished at a time when the Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho and others were undergoing extreme cultural stress.  At the same time they testify to cultural survival, not internment.

    So, when you see a pair of these moccasins, imagine a Lakota man dressed in his finest shirt with accompanying feathered headdress, leggings and other accessories.  Picture him seated on a spirited horse and on his feet are colorful, beaded moccasins.  As horse and rider move there is a symphony of color and shape and attitude that is all expressive of who the rider is and of his station in life.  And yes, you can see flashes of color from the soles of his beaded footwear. Oh, and by the way, there are examples of beaded moccasins made for and worn by horses that also have beaded bottoms.


  • Eiteljorg Roundup: Who's your favorite cowboy or cowgirl?

    by User Not Found | May 21, 2012
    For the Eiteljorg first ever Weekly Roundup, we asked staff members for the name of their all-time favorite cowboy or cowgirl.

    Lezlie Laxton, HR manager, says it's all about The Duke.  "I think John Wayne almost personified or developed the iconic American cowboy in film. His characters were the good guys who stood for justice and helped people. Those things sort of built up the American ideals to the public during the 50s and 60s."

    Pete Brown, web and new media coordinator, says Gene Wilder as The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles.

    Cathy Burton, Beeler Family director of education and former employee of the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, says:

    Monte Hale for his true friendship I witnessed to Mr. Autry; his kindness to the Autry museum staff and his infectious, positive attitude. He was funny and, as a movie singing cowboy, had a voice that rivaled his peers. Most obvious to all was his great love and devotion to his wife, Joanne, our museum president. For the staff in education, sure, we knew Mr. Autry and were dedicated to his museum, but Monte Hale’s voice was warm and we in education and programs would listen to his old songs in his movies or remember his work in movies like Giant. He was a giant of a man with a giant heart and voice. He had a marvelous sense of humor. He was tickled when the museum café in Los Angeles started naming their entrees. His, of course, was the Monte Hale Cristo sandwich. He always ordered it.

    My feeling is that this question will best be answered by James Nottage. James and his wife introduced me to Monte Hale when I worked  at the Autry Museum. James knew many popular cowboys, especially our boss, Mr. Gene Autry. Mr. Autry was in a class all to himself. It was his best friend, Monte, who was at Mr. Autry’s side as the two first visited the site and later the museum, checking out the galleries and behind-the scenes. Monte passed away in 2009 and is deeply missed by his wife. He was a good, genuine friend to many.

    When asked if he ever watched his own movies, Monte was reported to have said, "Cowboy stars are supposed to be brave, but I just don't have that kind of courage."

    James Nottage, vice president and chief curatorial officer, adds:

    One of the most interesting movie cowboy stars was Colonel Tim McCoy.  He was a real working cowboy and cowboy poet in Wyoming.  He became adjutant general of the Wyoming National Guard.  He was deeply immersed in Plains Indian history and culture and could speak in Indian sign language.  McCoy made many silent Western films and transitioned to sound films and then television.  In the 1970s he wrote and published his autobiography.  A fascinating man.

    Matt Askren, visitor experience manager, said Clint Eastwood as The Man with No Name in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; For a Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More. Erin Wold, gallery admissions assistant; Anne Nelson, retail manager; and Sheila Jackson, membership manager, are also fans of Eastwood, though Sheila is more partial to his role as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide.

    Jaq Nigg, festival and markets manager said:

    When I was a kid in the late 70’s, I watched old Westerns every Sunday afternoon with my dad. It was our thing. He preferred a specific formula: white hat/black hat, manly-man laconic heroes and lots of shoot ‘em up. Even as a youngster, I was aware that there were two kinds of women: pure or… not-so-pure. To my dad’s utter disappointment, one Sunday’s offering was Annie Get Your Gun, the tale of the first American female superstar, sharpshooter Annie Oakley. Unfortunately, it’s a musical, but I was mesmerized. Not by the songs or the costumes or the insipid story, but by Annie herself. When I learned she was a real person, I was a goner. I read every book I could find. I wanted to be just like her – tough, sassy, talented. I proceeded to be Annie Oakley for the next three Halloweens. Of course, since then, I’ve found better movies with more complex depictions of strong, independent, intelligent and highly capable women, but Annie was my first and will always be my favorite cowgirl.

    Bert Beiswanger, marketing manager, digs "that dude from Toy Story." Meanwhile, Tamara Winfrey Harris, vice president of communications and marketing, insists the only cowboy that counts is Val Kilmer as an aggressively tubercular Doc Holliday in Tombstone.

    Ashley Holland, assistant curator of contemporary art, says "Robert Redford and/or Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Either one."

    Sue Thompson, gallery admissions assistant, and Deborah Kish, volunteer services manager, are partial to Roy Rogers and so is Mary Ann Clifford, merchandise operations assistant, who says:

    "My favorite is Roy Rogers.  This is showing my age, but I grew up with the Roy Rogers Show and my brothers and I played cowboys when were we little.  With five brothers and being the second youngest, I was usually relegated to being the horse since, as my brothers told me, I had a pony tail!  Don’t worry, no one sat on me, but rather I galloped in front of one of them with twine looped around my middle and under my arms as the reins.  I always pretended to be Trigger, Roy’s trusty horse.  As I grew older, I admired Roy Rogers and Dale Evans for their loving adoption of numerous children and for their faithfulness to each other and to their strong beliefs in doing what was ethical."

    And Rachel Dillow, assistant events manager, offered this:

    Er...okay, Rachel.
    Go comment!
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