Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Ansel Adams | How the famed photographer got his start

    by Jonathan Spaulding, Guest curator for Ansel Adams exhibit | Feb 24, 2014

    Ansel Adams, photograph by Jim Alinder

    In the spring of 1916, the fourteen-year-old Ansel was in bed with a cold. To cheer his spirits during another of his many illnesses, his aunt gave him a copy of James M. Hutchings’s In the Heart of the Sierras, published in 1886 and one of the classic travel accounts of the region. The boy lay mesmerized by Hutchings’s romantic tales of adventure among the towering walls of the Yosemite Valley. The family had been discussing where to spend their upcoming summer vacation. In years past they had gone to Puget Sound or down the coast to Santa Cruz, but for Ansel there was now no option. They simply had to go to this incredible place called Yosemite.

    Soon after their arrival, Ansel’s parents gave him a Kodak No. I Box Brownie camera. After a brief lesson on its simple controls, he was off to explore the area. On foot, camera in hand, he traversed the valley with characteristic hyperkineticism. He took snapshots with no conscious artfulness, only a desire to record what caught his eye. At one point he clambered atop a rotting stump to shoot across the valley floor to the cliffs above. As he leaned back to take the picture, the stump gave way, sending him plummeting to earth. On the way down he managed to trip the shutter.

    The next day he took the film into the valley’s local camera shop, Pillsbury Pictures, Inc. When he came back to pick it up, Arthur Pillsbury himself presented him with the processed photos. Pillsbury inquired about one shot on the roll in particular. How had it happened to be made upside down? Had Adams held the camera inverse over his head for a better angle? Ansel explained his airborne photograph, adding that it was just a matter of luck that it had been shot at a perfect 180 degrees. Pillsbury gave the boy a skeptical look; here was an odd one indeed.

    Following his first Yosemite trip, Ansel Adams returned home to San Francisco and continued to use his camera. Because of his burning desire to learn more about photography, he went to work part-time as a “darkroom monkey” for neighbor Frank Dittman, who owned a photo-finishing operation.

    Ansel Adams in darkroom, photograph by Jim Alinder

    Ansel was well received by Dittman, the three printers, and the six delivery boys, although his odd ways provoked some ribbling. The skinny, hyperactive Ansel, with his crooked nose, his long words, and his stories about Yosemite, seemed an amusing character. They called him “Ansel Yosemite Adams.” He took it all well, Dittman remembered, and appeared to find the pranks played on him funny, too. He “picked up cussing real fast,” and Dittman thought the job was a good antidote to the music lessons he believed were just another example of the coddling the boy got at home. Dittman recognized that Ansel was in his element in the darkroom. “It came natural to him. I could see right off he was good. Whatever the kid done was done thorough.”

    Adams was fascinated by photographic equipment and begun to prowl the local camera shops to investigate the rows of lenses, tripods, lights, chemicals, printing papers, cameras and film. He read the amateur photographic magazines and whatever technical handbooks he could find. At a local camera club he met W.E. Dassonville, a manufacturer of fine printing papers and an accomplished photographer. Dassonville knew many of the Bay Area photographers and gave Adams an introduction to the practice of the medium as a fine art.

    - From the biography Ansel Adams and the American Landscape by Jonathan Spaulding’s biography contains an extensive bibliography of works by and about Ansel Adams. His detailed descriptions of Adams’ photographs, projects, and relationships offer compelling insights into the man who has come to represent the American West.

    Meet Jonathan Spaulding this Saturday at the Eiteljorg during opening weekend of the Ansel Adams exhibit.

    Saturday, Mar. 1, 2014
    1:30 p.m.
    A Conversation with curator Jonathan Spaulding
    Join Jonathan Spaulding for a behind-the-scenes discussion of Ansel Adams’ life and work - See more at:
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  • From Slave to Cowboy | Nat Love's story comes to life this Saturday at the Eiteljorg

    by Eiteljorg Museum Public Programs | Feb 17, 2014
    Join us at 1:30 p.m., this Saturday, Feb. 22, to experience storyteller Rochel Coleman as he recreates the life and times of African American cowboy Nat Love in a series of stories based on Love’s autobiography. 

    Nat Love, born a slave in Tennessee, went west at the age of 15 to seek freedom and equal opportunity. He earned the name "Deadwood Dick" on July 4, 1876 by being the best cowboy in a competition which included roping, riding and shooting. Nat took on all comers and was the best at every event in the competition. He was also called "Red River Dick" when he was instrumental in heading cattle drives from Texas to Kansas. He had the distinguished position of chief brand reader, which ranked him as an outstanding cattleman. He was one of the most prominent black cowboys in the early history of the West. The attitude regarding race relations between cowboys were non-existent at that time. For most people, a cowboy was a cowboy. "Deadwood Dick" was a bronco-buster, sharpshooter and one of the most trusted cowboys of his era. In his days as a cowboy, he was befriended by many of the noted ‘bad men’ of the time, such as Billy the Kid, the James Brothers, and Bat Masterson. He was also adopted by more than one Indian tribe.

    About Storyteller Rochel Coleman
    Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, Rochel started singing professionally at

    the age of nine. With the Men and Boys’ Choir of Christ Church Cathedral and then with the Berkshire Boys’ Choir, he distinguished himself as a soloist, performing with Pablo Cassals, King’s College Choir, and the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood. Opening the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, he had his first taste of acting. He toured with the show for two years, ending the run at Lincoln Center in New York City. Rochel continued to study music and drama at Indiana University and toured several operas under the direction of the Indiana School of Music. From St. Richard’s School, to Brebeuf Preparatory School, and finally at Colorado College, he continued to have an interest in drama, participating in regional productions. Rochel worked on a number of daytime dramas. When the opportunity came to study at Trinity Repertory Conservatory, he moved to Providence, RI. Rochel continues to expand his achievements through writing and directing.

    Source for this post:
    Supplemental curriculum guide for teachers for Rochel Coleman's performance of "I, Nat Love | The Story of Deadwood Dick."

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  • Stories of Cultural Diversity | Meet Storyteller Joanna Winston

    by Linda Montag-Olson, Eiteljorg public programs manager | Feb 13, 2014

    Joanna Winston
    Two historical characters of the West spring to life as actor/storyteller Joanna Winston shares their stories with delighted audiences. Winston is part of the Eiteljorg Museum to Classroom project, made possible with funding from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and Citizens Energy Group. Through the generosity of our sponsors, there is no charge for schools hosting Winston in the classroom.

    Winston’s engaging performances, in which she transforms to “Stagecoach” Mary Fields or mountain man James Beckwourth, include singing, sign-language, and many more surprises.

    “Stagecoach” Mary Fields was the first female mail carrier hired in the US, and she delivered mail in the Montana Territory from 1895 to 1903. Born a slave in Tennessee, Mary’s strength, courage and intelligence shine as Winston tells her story.

    “Mary proved that even though she was African American and a woman, she was just as smart, and strong, and stubborn as any white man,” said Winston. “It’s such an honor to portray her life.”

    Trader, trapper, trail blazer, James Beckwourth, is another character in Winston’s repertoire. Born the son of a white captain in the Revolutionary War and a black slave woman, he spoke three languages, lived with and fought with Crow Indians, and discovered a place for early pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountain range.  Beckwourth Pass is still in use today as part of a California highway. 
    “When I perform the Beckwourth story, I get to share my own experiences about growing up in a biracial household,” said Winston, the daughter of a white mother and an African American father. Joanna Winston“My hope is that my story resonates, and helps listeners to connect the lives of those past and present.”

    Students and families, at the museum and at schools in the Indianapolis area, are amazed to find out that the West was so diverse. Through Eiteljorg curriculum, they also learn that at least 30 percent of cowboys were African American.

    A Butler fine arts graduate, Winston shines during each performance. See her Saturday afternoons at the Eiteljorg. Classroom visits can be arranged for Thursday and Friday mornings through May 23 by calling 317.275.1350.

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  • The Black Cowboy, Storytelling Saturdays and an Ansel Adams Preview

    by DeShong Perry-Smitherman, Eiteljorg public relations manager | Feb 04, 2014

    Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo

    New exhibit now open
    Blake Little  features 41 black-and-white images of cowboys and cowgirls from the gay rodeo circuit, taken by award-winning, Los Angeles-based photographer, Blake Little. The Seattle native became captivated by the gay rodeo scene in 1988 and began documenting the lives of its contenders, victors and their devoted fans.  Blake Little and associated public programs, at the Eiteljorg are a part of the museum’s Out West series. The series, created and produced by independent curator Gregory Hinton, illuminates the many contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities of the American West, and celebrates the diversity of the region. Please visit for details. Photo credit: Blake Little, Chute Dogging, Phoenix, Arizona, 1989, Image courtesy of Blake Little.

    The Girl of the Golden West
    Film Screening
    Saturday, Feb. 15
    1 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
    In preparation for the Indianapolis Opera’s performance of David Belasco’s The Girl of the Golden West on March 21 and 23, the Eiteljorg will host a screening of the 1938 film starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.

     I, Nat Love: The Story of Deadwood Dick
    Saturday, Feb. 22
    1:30 p.m.
    Storyteller Rochel Coleman will bring Nat Love’s story to life. Born a slave in Tennessee, Nat headed West in search of freedom and opportunity at age 15. He became one of the most famous Black cowboys of his time.

    Ansel Adams
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    Exhibit preview
    Friday, February 28
    7:30 p.m.
    $45 members, $55 nonmembers

    Ansel Adams exhibit opens, Saturday, March 1.
    Ansel Adams is a collection of more than 80 of this legendary photographer’s personally-chosen photographs. The photographs focus largely on the vast spaces of the American West, ranging from Yosemite to the Pacific Coast, the Southwest, Alaska, Hawaii and the Northwest. Referred to as The Museum Set, this lifetime portfolio includes many of Adams’ most famous and best-loved photographs, including architectural studies, portraits and magnificent landscapes. Photo credit: Ansel Adams in Owens Valley, photograph by Cedric Wright, courtesy of the Colby Memorial Library, Sierra Club.

    Storytelling Saturdays throughout the month
    Stories of the West

    1, 2, 3 & 4 p.m.
    Hear the amazing true stories of two prominent African Americans in the West, Stagecoach Mary Fields and mountain man, Jim Beckwourth, as told by actress and storyteller, Joanna Winston.


    1p.m. – 3p.m.
    Meet Teresa Webb (Anishinaabe) and hear about Native American cultures through stories and songs, accompanied by flute, drum and rattle.

    Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2014, presented by Oxford Financial Group, LTD, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western art seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America. The museum is located in Downtown Indianapolis’ White River State Park, at 500 West Washington, Indianapolis, IN  46204. For general information about the museum and to learn more about exhibits and events, call 317.636.WEST (9378) or visit

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  • Don't Miss Josefina Day this Saturday | Games, performances to cure cabin fever

    by Alisa Nordholt-Dean, Eiteljorg Public Programs Coordinator | Jan 22, 2014

    It’s Indiana and Old Man Winter has been rearing his ugly head again. Schools were cancelled or delayed again this week, which means yet another day at home with the kids bouncing off the walls. If you’re itching to get out of the house with your family this weekend and looking for something fun and unique to do, plan an adventure to the Eiteljorg Museum for Josefina Day – a day of games, performances and art-making activities inspired by the New Mexican culture of the American Girl, Josefina. 

    On Saturday, Jan. 25 from 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., young guests can create paper flowers, try colcha embroidery, play lotería (a Mexican game similar to bingo) and so much more! At 1:30 p.m. Anderson Ballet Folkorico will take the stage for a lively performance. Watch as the Folklorico dancers twirl across the stage in brightly colored dresses while performing traditional Mexican folk dances from various regions in Mexico.

    At 3:30 p.m. eager young visitors and their grown-ups will gather in the Clowes Ballroom, anxiously awaiting the highly anticipated Josefina Doll giveaway. One lucky child will win his/her very own Josefina, American Girl Doll to take home and love forever. You need not be present to win.

    But alas, if your name is not drawn out of the big red American Girl prize box, do not despair…there are no losers at the Eiteljorg Museum! A sturdy stack of consolation prizes will be given out following the doll drawing. And besides…the real winners are those who came out on a cold winter afternoon and experienced Josefina Day at the Eiteljorg and all it had to offer.

    Josefina Day events and activities are included with regular museum admission.

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