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"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.

THE HOPE and REJECTION...
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.

THE TRIUMPH!
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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