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New endowment supports long-term care of outdoor art at the Eiteljorg

by User Not Found | Aug 29, 2012

Endowment launched by $250,000 gift from Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust 

INDIANAPOLIS—What would the landscape of downtown Indianapolis be without the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art’s White Tail Deer sculpture by Kenneth Bunn greeting visitors to White River State Park? Thanks to a $250,000 gift from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust (NMPCT), in honor of founding board members Frank and Nancy Russell, a new endowment has been established to ensure the care and conservation of the Eiteljorg’s 10 pieces of outdoor art, including its iconic deer, to benefit the Indianapolis community for generations to come.

“The Russells’ commitment to this community has left a lasting impression,” says John Vanausdall, Eiteljorg president and CEO. “Enriching Indianapolis through the preservation of public art seems a fitting tribute to their legacy. This gift shows a continued commitment from the Trust to the museum’s mission also evidenced by its 1998 gift of $1.5 million for the Nina Mason Pulliam Education Center.”

In addition to White Tail Deer, part of the Richard and Billie Lou Wood Deer Fountain, the Eiteljorg boasts other large bronze sculptures, a glass and stainless steel waterfall, a living landscape and painted metal “traffic” signs in the Native Miami language, along the Cultural Trail, West Street and in its public Christel DeHaan Family Terrace that flanks the Central Canal. The first work to benefit from the Pulliam Charitable Trust’s generosity will be Southwest Summer Showers by Doug Hyde (Nez Perce, Assiniboine and Chippewa).

Gift honors longstanding community leaders Frank and Nancy Russell

Frank E. Russell and Nancy M. Russell served as founding Trustees of the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust for 14 years, retiring as of Dec. 31, 2011.  Both shared business and personal relationships with the Pulliams dating back to the 1950s. Mr. Russell retired in 1999 from Central Newspapers Inc. after serving as chairman of the board from 1996-1999. He was executor of Nina Mason Pulliam’s estate, which included establishing the NMPCT Charitable Trust.  Frank also served as a longstanding member of the Board of Directors at the Eiteljorg Museum. Both Frank and Nancy Russell are Indiana natives.

Southwest Summer Showers gets a new home

Southwest Summer Showers is a unique and memorable working fountain. Those who stroll among the indigenous Indiana greenery in the Eiteljorg gardens are struck by the 600-pound bronze of a Navajo woman protecting herself from the real water trickling over the umbrella in her hands. One of the first projects of the endowment will be to conserve and move this piece. The sculpture has been removed for conservation and will be returned to a new, more publicly accessible location, which will be named the Frank and Nancy Russell Sculpture Niche, near the Central Canal in September, as its sculptor, Hyde, is honored this fall with a special exhibition as the Quest for the West® Artist of Distinction.

Outdoor art conservation presents unique challenges

A crucial element in preserving artwork inside the museum is maintaining the environment—controlling temperature, humidity, pests, handling and other factors which can damage art and artifacts. Placing art in an outdoor environment strips the museum of its ability to control these issues.

A great deal of planning goes into the placement and installation of outdoor art in order to protect it and maintain the integrity of the artist’s intention, including location, security, accessibility, and interpretive signage. Fountains require water treatment to minimize algae growth and scale deposits on the bronze.

Once properly installed, the first line of defense is annual maintenance. Bronze fountains, like Whitetail Deer and Southwest Summer Showers, require a complete wash, scrubbing and reapplication of multiple coats of protective wax each year. Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscape, located along West Street, required a reinstallation of the plants in 2011. This year, with the record drought, a drip irrigation system to water those plants had to be added for preservation of this piece of art.

In addition to the care of the art in the gardens, the museum is developing a mobile app to enhance the visitor experience in these outdoor spaces. The app will guide guests through the native plants and public art in the museum’s outdoor gardens.

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The Eiteljorg Museum seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America. Through its Project New Moon campaign, the museum is attracting new audiences with dynamic new interpretations of its mission. The museum is located in Downtown Indianapolis’ White River State Park. For general information about the museum and to learn more about exhibits and events, call (317) 636-WEST (9378) or visit

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust seeks to help people in need, to protect animals and nature; and to enrich community life in the metropolitan areas of Indianapolis and Phoenix. Since 1998, the Trust has awarded more than $200 million in gifts to nearly 900 not-for-profit agencies in Indiana and Arizona.  The Trust was founded in 1997 upon the death of Nina Mason Pulliam, the widow and business partner of Eugene C. Pulliam, founder of Central Newspapers Inc., whose holdings included The Indianapolis Star and The Arizona Republic.  Central Newspapers Inc. was sold to Gannett Corporation in 2002.  For more information about the Trust, visit

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