Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Grand and beautiful Native basketry exhibit reflects Perelmans’ generosity

    by | | Feb 22, 2018

    Perelman baskets exhibit

    A new exhibition at the Eiteljorg showcases the work of some of the most admired Native American basketmakers while celebrating two of the museum’s most generous supporters: Mel and Joan Perelman.

    The Perelmans recently gifted to the museum their collection of 147 baskets, cradles and bags spanning much of North America, with a particular focus on the Southwest and Far West regions. This gift is meaningful, as it fills gaps in the museum’s existing collections. A selection of objects will be featured in a special exhibit, Interwoven: Native American Basketry from the Mel and Joan Perelman Collection, in the Paul Gallery from April 14 to Aug. 5.

    “The Eiteljorg Museum has benefitted profoundly from the generosity of Mel and Joan Perelman over the past two decades,” Eiteljorg President and CEO John Vanausdall said. “Their exquisite judgment in collecting fine art of Native America and the West is reflected in this outstanding collection, representing many cultures, that the public will be fascinated to see. In light of the extraordinary quality of this basket collection in particular, it’s appropriate that we share it with the public.”

    These baskets are symbolic of the resiliency of Native peoples and are primarily the works of women, including Louisa Keyser (Washoe), Lena Dick (Washoe), Elizabeth Juan (Tohono O’odham), Lucy Telles (Paiute), Magdelena Augustine (Chemehuevi) and others, some whose names were not recorded. The baskets contain the love, care, and knowledge passed down through multiple generations that contributed to the survival of many Native communities despite dramatic and traumatic transitions of the late 19th through early 20th centuries.

    Crucial to the continuation of these arts is the inter-generational transmitting of knowledge about what materials work best for specific purposes, where to gather materials and the proper care and harvesting of materials; while also leaving room for innovation and personal taste in form, designs, and incorporating new materials. All are woven into each item. While many of the baskets have utilitarian roots, they also represent adaptation to a market economy. Some were made specifically for sale, such as the Washoe degikup, a globular basket form, developed in the 1890s. Other baskets range from the grand — an Apache olla basket measuring 26 inches tall and 24 inches in diameter — to an incredibly intricate and diminutive Makah basket.

    While the collection is mainly of baskets, it also encompasses Lower Klamath River basketry hats and other forms of woven items such as a Hoopa cradle and Nez Perce twined bag. The Perelmans also collected the work of living artists from numerous communities who continue the traditions and innovations seen in these earlier works.

    Love, care, and knowledge: These words not only apply to the many Native artists and their creations within the collection, but also to the Perelmans themselves. The Perelmans are among the museum’s most active supporters, and Mel serves on the board of directors. A previous Eiteljorg show, Spirited Connoisseurs in 2004, featured Western paintings and Native pottery, baskets and Katsina figures the Perelmans collected. The museum’s expansion wing, which was built in 2005 and doubled the size of the building, is named for them.

    To honor Mel and Joan Perelman for their support of Native fine arts and the museum, the Eiteljorg will host a special gala celebration Thursday, June 21. If you would like to join us in recognizing the Perelmans’ generosity, please visit or email for information about reservations.

    Interwoven: Native American Basketry from the Mel and Joan Perelman Collection
    Gerald and Dorit Paul Gallery, Eiteljorg Museum
    April 14–August 5

    Gala celebration, 6 p.m. Thursday, June 21, presented by Oxford Financial Group, LTD.
    Co-chairs of the gala are John and Sarah Lechleiter.

    Image Caption: 

    (From left to right) Feather and yarn Tubatulabal basket, ca. 1905; Apache olla, 1918; feather basket by Rose Anderson (Pomo); two quilled birch bark containers by Bernard Parley (Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa), 1995; beaded Pomo basket, ca. 1870.
    Gift of Mel and Joan Perelman


    This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Storyteller magazine.


  • Exhibit looks at how Hollywood Westerns shape perceptions of American identity

    by | | Feb 15, 2018

    The Reel West headline

    Worldwide, people often formed their first impressions of the West and of America not from visiting its vast landscapes but from seeing tales of the West flicker onscreen.

    A romanticized and fictional version of the West galloped across movie screens and on televisions, thrilling audiences while portraying a violent and often simplistic version of American life in the frontier era, with spurs jingling and showdowns at high noon. After a century of Hollywood Western films and decades of Western TV shows, the storylines have become more complex and nuanced. And while fans now are as likely to watch by streaming video, the power of Westerns to create perceptions of the American West is undiminished.

    To explore the role of Hollywood in shaping American ideas of morality, diversity and national identity, the Eiteljorg Museum will take a deep dive into the Western genre through its next featured exhibit: The Reel West. Opening March 3, The Reel West explores the historic, artistic and cultural significance of Western films and TV shows. Film costumes, props, paintings, movie posters and images from the early silent Westerns and mid-20th century classics up through today all are represented.

    Included in the interesting things you will see in The Reel West are:

    • A mask, hat, costume, gun belt and scarf worn by The Lone Ranger, actor Clayton Moore

    • A full costume worn by Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of True Grit

    • Two hats worn by Clint Eastwood, on his early 1960s TV show Rawhide and years later in his 1985 film Pale Rider

    • Western hats or other costume items worn on camera by Western performers from several eras, including John Wayne, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, James Arness, the cast members of Bonanza, plus Sam Elliott, Anjelica Huston, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jamie Foxx and many others

    • Interactive technology including touchscreens that museum-goers can use to watch clips from Westerns and to explore in greater detail the themes of morality, diversity and identity that Westerns portray

    • A small movie theater showing clips from film trailers of well-known Western movies

    • Hands-on interactives for all ages.

    Among the Western films highlighted in The Reel West is director John Ford’s 1956 epic The Searchers, starring John Wayne and Natalie Wood. Though films of that so-called “classic” era certainly could be entertaining with good-versus-evil storylines, they often overlooked and distorted the roles of women, Native Americans, African Americans, Latino and LGBTQ communities in the actual West. As audiences and cultural sensibilities changed, Hollywood Westerns evolved over time; so the exhibit also looks at important historical and recent Western films that better convey the West’s diversity, some more realistically, some satirically or ironically, some combining elements of other film genres, such as science fiction.

    Cast, The Searchers, Lilly, Full Permissions

    “We are thrilled to present The Reel West, as this yearlong exhibit has multigenerational appeal to casual movie fans, serious film buffs, Baby Boomers who remember iconic Westerns and younger people new to the genre,” Eiteljorg President and CEO John Vanausdall said. “Many special programming events are scheduled during the run of the exhibit where guests can learn more about how these films were made, thus enhancing their appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of Westerns.”

    Developed by Johanna M. Blume, the Eiteljorg’s associate curator of Western art, history and culture, The Reel West has been several years in the making. The exhibit includes art works from the museum’s collections, but Eiteljorg staff also traveled the nation to confer with other museums, collectors and studio archives that loaned costumes, objects and props for the exhibit.

    The Reel West, presented by Oxford Financial Group, LTD and sponsored by Ice Miller LLP, The Sunrise Foundation, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, the Indiana-polis Colts, Nordstrom, Frank N. and Patricia L. Owings and other sponsors, continues through Feb. 3, 2019 in the special exhibit gallery, and is included with regular museum admission.

    Original Westworld, Alamy, Promotion non-paid use, Exhibit Permissions

    A year of fascinating, fun programming for The Reel West

    The Reel West will kick off with a special opening reception Friday evening March 2. For information and reservations, contact Mary Whistler at 317.275.1316 or

    Eiteljorg partner IMAX Theater will hold screenings of Western films throughout the exhibition. Tickets to an IMAX Western include Eiteljorg Museum admission. Check for details of film screenings.

    Here are other programming events in connection with The Reel West, all at the Eiteljorg unless otherwise noted:

    • Curator’s Choice talk, Women in Westerns: A sneak peek at The Reel West exhibition with Johanna M. Blume, noon March 2

    • Presentation by award-winning Dances with Wolves costume designer Cathy Smith, 1 p.m. March 3

    • Screenings of the silent films An Eastern Westerner and Safety Last! accompanied by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, March 10 and March 11, at the Schrott Center for the Arts. Tickets available on the ICO website,

    • Lecture and gallery tour with Dr. Sue Matheson, Western film scholar, focused on art works that influenced John Ford films, 1 p.m. March 31

    • Presentation by Emmy Award-winning writer and co-producer of Into the West, Kirk Ellis, 1 p.m. April 7

    • Trivia night, chuckwagon grub, movie screenings and much more.

    More events are being added all the time; please visit for the latest details.

    Image Captions:

    Promotional artwork of Yul Brynner in Westworld, 1973
    Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo

    Cast in The Searchers, 1956
    Image courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana


    This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Storyteller magazine. 

  • Exhibit showcasing Harry Fonseca’s extraordinary body of work opens May 19

    by Jennifer Complo McNutt, curator of contemporary art | Feb 12, 2018

    Harry Fonseca_St. Francis of AssisiIn 2005 the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship awarded one of five Eiteljorg Fellowships to Harry Fonseca (Maidu/Nisenan/
    Portuguese/Hawaiian). A short 13 months later, Fonseca passed. His death was mourned by the contemporary arts community as well as friends and colleagues. There was a rain of tears as we said goodbye to the creator of Coyote and Rose, Gold and Souls in California, Stone Poems, the St. Francis series and the Splatter and Stripes series, and recalled his charming coyote smile and silvery hair. Fonseca had left his corporeal form; and what remains is his legacy of whimsy and tricksters, ancient images, the revenges of greed and religious megalomania and a love of paint and painting.

    In 2014 the Eiteljorg was approached by Fonseca’s partner Harry Nungesser, fondly referred to as “Tucson Harry.” Fonseca’s home was in Santa Fe; Nungesser’s in Tucson. Over the years Nungesser had purchased many works of art from Fonseca, had received many gifts from him such as paintings, drawings, and prints, and had also documented Fonseca’s accomplishments. Nungesser had accumulated photos and personal correspondence that include drawings and paintings, invitations, articles and books — all told, about 80 works of art and six file boxes of archival information. Nungesser wanted to make a gift of his collection to the Eiteljorg.

    It is a welcomed and treasured gift. In February 2014, as we curators arrived at Nungesser’s to pack the collection for transport to the Eiteljorg, I was surprised to see this important collection was housed in a mobile home. This was no ordinary mobile home; it was known locally as the Trailer Trash Gallery, Sometimes Hotel and Sometimes Restaurant, a scene of many exquisite dinners and celebrations. Nungesser had inherited the trailer; and it was a perfect location to maintain the collection of Fonseca’s work in a hot dry climate, with minimal light and climate control.

    The Eiteljorg will celebrate this collection with an exhibition dedicated to Harry Fonseca’s work and life. Included will be paintings, prints, drawings and archival materials that provide an intimate look at this artist. The audience will be introduced to Fonseca’s work, love of music, food, family, and friends. There will be audible interpretation provided by Nungesser to listen to, scrapbooks to flip through, a catalog and a beautiful journey through the chronology of his work. It is a story of love and art not to be missed.

    Harry Fonseca

    The exhibit
    Harry Fonseca: The Art of Living will open May 19 and continue for one year in the Eiteljorg’s Hurt and Harvey galleries. A catalog of the Fonseca exhibit will be available in the Frank and Katrina Basile Museum Store. For information about reservations to a special opening reception at 6 p.m. Friday, May 18, please contact Mary Whistler at 317.275.1316 or


    Image Caption:
    Harry Fonseca (Maidu/Nisenan/Portuguese/Hawaiian, 1946-2006)
    St. Francis of Assisi, 1999 Mixed media on canvas
    65 x 35”
    Museum purchase with funds from Harry S. Nungesser in loving memory of his partner Harry Fonseca

    This essay originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Storyteller magazine. 



  • The Reel West looks at how Westerns shape identity

    by Eiteljorg staff | Nov 21, 2017


    On March 3, 2018, the Eiteljorg opens an exciting new special exhibition: The Reel West. This collection of objects, images and hands-on interactives explores how Western movies and TV shows shape perceptions of the American West.

    Whether you’re a fan of classic Hollywood Westerns such as The Searchers and Bonanza, or contemporary takes on the genre like Django Unchained and the reboot of Westworld, there’s something for everyone. The Reel West examines how Westerns tell morality tales, represent diversity and build myths that shape American identity.

    Fun and interesting for all ages, the yearlong exhibition includes film screenings, curator talks and more. Interested in sponsoring a movie-style theater seat or a hat worn by your favorite Hollywood hero or villain? Contact 317.275.1311 or for sponsorship opportunities.

  • Quest for the West Artist H David Wright

    by Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art | Aug 20, 2015

    Scenes from the old West will come to life in paintings and sculptures that will fill the galleries of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, with the opening of the 10th annual Quest for the West® Art Show and Sale, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. In one gallery, the only gallery like it in the state of Indiana, visitors can see and be the first to bid on millions of dollars in artwork from 50 coveted Western artists.  Meet Quest for the West Artist H. David Wright.

    Wright 2015
    H. David Wright
    Born 1942, in Rosine, Kentucky; lives in Gallatin, Tennessee
    Bent’s Fort Arrival
    2015, oil on panel, 30 x 22 inches
    Bent’s Fort in present day Colorado was a gathering place during the western fur trade in the second quarter of the 19th century. Trappers, traders, and Indians flocked there to exchange their goods for supplies. My painting depicts a trapper as he might have looked after arrival at the post while camped outside the adobe fort. He displays fresh beaver plews still stretched on willow hoops. Once dry they will be traded for needed supplies.

    IF ONE WORD epitomizes the work of H. David Wright, it is “authentic.” David Wright has been ever drawn to artistically depicting the American frontier and the grand imprints of American history such as the Civil War.  Always set in studied landscapes that capture the fullness of topographic beauty and the richness of the local milieu, his paintings unfailingly reflect a love for country, history, and nature.

    Impeccable research and insightful realization are hallmarks of his paintings. While his forty plus years of painting include European and American training, it is in his studio and field research that his paintings become as distinctive as they are informative.

    Born in Kentucky and raised in Tennessee, Wright’s art captures the scenic beauty of the region while chronicling memorable episodes in American history. He is drawn to the awakening American frontier and the grand imprints of American history such as the Civil War.  His commissioned artistic centerpiece, Gateway to the West—Daniel Boone Leading the Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap, 1775, graces the visitor’s center at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, in Kentucky. His paintings are frequently featured in television documentaries, as is he, as historian and subject expert. Wright is a founding member of the Southern Light Artists of America.

    Notable awards and achievements:
    2008    Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Quest for the West, Victor Higgins Work of Distinction Award
    2008    Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Quest for the West, Patrons’ Choice Award
    2007    Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Quest for the West, Harrison Eiteljorg Purchase Award
    2005    Nominated for an EMMY for art direction, History Channel’s First Invasion—The War of 1812

    Southern Light Artists of America

    Gallery representation:
    Legacy Gallery, Jackson, Wyoming and Scottsdale, Arizona
    Lord Nelson’s Gallery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

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