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 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. 



  • Grammy-winner Bill Miller to perform concert at Eiteljorg Museum April 5

    by Bryan Corbin, editor, Storyteller magazine | Jan 31, 2018
    Bill Miller image

    A powerful singer-songwriter, Bill Miller is known for his percussive guitar style and intense vocals. His Native American flute-playing has earned him Grammy awards. Drawing upon his Mohican heritage, Miller sings poignantly about his Native experience, combining traditional singing styles of northern tribes with classic rock, gospel, blues and Native flute. Highly admired in music circles, Miller has performed on the same stages with Pearl Jam, Tori Amos and Arlo Guthrie, and participated in a Johnny Cash documentary and tribute album.

    To hear an artist of Miller’s virtuosity perform live is a real treat. Eiteljorg visitors can experience his concert at a free event starting at 7 p.m. April 5 at the museum. Miller’s performance is part of an evening that begins with a fascinating panel discussion about an IUPUI professor’s project to revive Mohican-language hymns that almost were lost to history.

    Interwoven into Bill Miller’s songs is the history of Mohican and other tribal cultures and his own family story. His song “Love Sustained” is about his mother, who raised nine children on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin, amid his father’s battles with alcoholism. During his 35-year music career, Miller has produced more than a dozen albums, performed across North America, toured with national acts in the 1990s and built up a social-media following. As a musician he has connected with audiences of many cultures and faiths. “I’ve had unlikely alliances with people who you’d never think I’d be influenced by,” he said.

    Miller also has lived through recent personal tragedies, including deaths of his mother and adult son, and his own near-fatal illness and heart surgery. Now touring again, he remains passionate about musical excellence. “I’m playing on a different level, spiritually. I’m very confident in what I do. I don’t have a doubt anymore,” Miller said.

    Historical detective story

    The spiritual dimension of Bill Miller’s songs has won over many fans, including Rachel Wheeler, Ph.D., religious studies professor at IUPUI. She first heard Miller in 2001 during research into missionaries who worked among Mohicans in the 1700s. Her research compared a Congregational (Puritan) mission in Miller’s ancestral community of Stockbridge, Mass., to a German Moravian mission in a nearby Mohican community.

    In the Moravian church archives in Bethlehem, Pa., Wheeler found lyrics of 18th century hymns, written in the Mohican language. Moravian records provided glimpses into the lives of Mohican communities of centuries ago, before their removal from the Hudson River Valley and New England to Indiana and eventually Wisconsin, where the tribe is based today.

    Wheeler sought to recreate the Mohican hymns, but the project faced huge obstacles: the Mohican hymn tradition disappeared, the last fluent Mohican speakers died in the 1930s and the rediscovered lyrics lacked sheet music. Wheeler collaborated with Sarah Eyerly, Ph.D., Florida State University musicology professor, who located the original music in Germany and matched up lyrics with hymn tunes. Mohican composer Brent Michael Davids developed arrangements of the hymns that modern choir singers can perform. Exactly how the Mohican hymns sounded in the 1700s is not known; but through the team’s reverse engineering, the hymns again can be sung in Moravian musical styles. Bill Miller is working on new music rooted in Native music traditions to go with the Mohican-authored lyrics.

    Miller’s own recordings explore Christianity and Native spirituality. At the April 5 event, during the panel discussion with Wheeler, Eyerly and others, Miller plans to debut new music for the Mohican hymns, followed by a concert of his own material. “I think it’s a beautiful circle of me coming into my own heritage with my faith,” he said of the collaboration. “What I want this project to be as far as my connection to it is to add my spirit voice to it.”


    Mohican Songs of the Spirit
    Eiteljorg Museum’s Clowes Court

    Thursday April 5
    7 p.m.

    Panel discussion with Dr. Rachel Wheeler, Dr. Sarah Eyerly, Bill Miller and others.
    8 p.m.
    Concert by singer-songwriter, fine-art painter and activist Bill Miller.

    Free Admission

    Sponsored by:
    IUPUI American Indian Programs
    IUPUI Department of Religious Studies
    Spirit & Place
    American Council of Learned Societies
    Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art

    IUPUI AIP Logo

    IUPUI Religious Studies logo

    Spirit & Place Festival logo

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

  • Celebrate Native American Heritage Month at the Eiteljorg

    by Alisa Nordholt-Dean | Oct 23, 2017

    Mario Martinez_Conversation

    November is National Native American Heritage Month and what better way to celebrate than by visiting the Eiteljorg. Peruse the museum galleries, join in a curator tour, see Native Art Now! and meet two incredibly talented Native artists visiting Indianapolis to inspire visitors and showcase their beadwork skills. Here is a sampling of what’s in store for November.

    Curator’s Choice Tour:
    Cut Fold, and Sew: The Miami, Potawatomi and Delaware Arts of Ribbonwork with Dr. Scott Shoemaker, the Thomas G. and Susan C. Hoback curator of Native American art, history and culture. Nov. 3 at noon.

    Native Art Now! 
    Don’t miss this exhibit of iconic contemporary Native art from the Eiteljorg’s permanent collection. Opens Nov. 11.

    Karen Ann HoffmanArtist in Residence: Karen Ann Hoffman (Oneida)
    Award-winning artist Karen Ann Hoffman creates beautifully decorative pieces using Iroquois raised beadwork. Her work has been displayed across the nation and is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the Wisconsin Historical Museum and other institutions. Meet Karen and learn about her art and culture during open studio sessions on Nov. 11, 18 and 25. She will also teach a brooch-making workshop on Nov. 22.

    Katrina MittenArtist in Residence: Katrina Mitten (Miami Tribe of Oklahoma)
    Beadwork artist Katrina Mitten creates embroidery-style beadwork traditional to Native peoples of the Great Lakes. She has won numerous awards for her work over the years and her pieces can be seen in museums around the nation. On Nov. 24 and 25, meet Katrina, learn about her Miami culture, and watch as she demonstrates beadwork techniques.

    Visit for the latest information about art-making events and opportunities to meet artists.


    Image caption for Native Art Now! image at top:

    Mario Martinez (Pascua Yaqui, born 1953)
    The Conversation, 2004
    Acrylic and charcoal on canvas
    Museum Purchase: Eiteljorg Fellowship


    This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Storyteller magazine.


  • Artistry and Excellence: A conversation with Betsy Theobald Richards about Native Art Now!

    by Bryan Corbin, editor, Storyteller magazine | Oct 23, 2017

    Betsy Theobald RichardsTo lead the dialogue at a convening of scholars and top contemporary Native artists, the Eiteljorg has selected a nationally known art and social justice expert: Betsy Theobald Richards (Cherokee Nation). With two decades of experience in philanthropy, arts education, advocacy and theater directing and producing, Richards served at the Pequot Museum and Ford Foundation and now is program director for The Opportunity Agenda. With a passion for Native art (her aunt is the renowned artist Kay WalkingStick), Richards designed the format of the facilitated conversations she will lead at Native Art Now! on Nov. 11-12 that will examine the future of contemporary Native art.

    Storyteller magazine recently interviewed Richards about the program, and her comments are lightly edited for space:

    On why she designed the format of the Native Art Now! gathering of artists and scholars to include facilitated roundtable discussions:
    “I put the suggestion out there that (the Eiteljorg) might want to try something I had tried at one of my biggest convenings called ‘Creative Change’ . . . which was how to take a large group of incredibly talented, visionary folks, and have them have a dialogue. That isn’t what we normally have, which is panels where four people sit up on the dais and talk at people and take questions. I tried to help design a format that will allow people to have dialogue among themselves, to have thought leaders for folks that begin conversations; but that the conversation then becomes owned by the group.”

    On what insights she expects participants will gain from the facilitated dialogue with artists:
    “What I hope is to get everybody thinking to create a space where people can think as big as possible about the future. Not just, ‘Five years from now we should have this program or two more exhibitions in a year,’ not just the tactics or mechanical outcomes, but really have time for some dreaming. Dreaming is a very powerful thing.”

    On the challenges that contemporary Native artists face today that will provide context for the discussions:
    “Contemporary Native art is contemporary art . . . Often contemporary Native art is sidelined. Some people are interested in historical or ethnographic pieces; but our artists are living treasures. They deserve to make a living . . . We should all appreciate the artistry and the excellence of these contemporary artists.”

    On the key points that should be conveyed to funders about the importance of supporting contemporary Native art:
    “We forget as Americans that we are on Native land and that our Indigenous cultures are an asset, something very special to this country. I think that we need to start understanding — not just funders, but America in general — what an incredible asset of our heritage and our future that our Native cultures are. And one of the most visible and powerful ways to exhibit our living cultures is through our art . . . We are living cultures, and these artists are upholding our living cultures in magnificent ways just as our ancestors did . . . If funders and the general public want to support Native communities, one of the many ways is to support Native culture (through art). Also, Native art is cool. I think people need to buy some Native art.”

    On her social justice work and how that relates to the convening of Fellowship artists:
    “A lot of my work is around incorporating art, culture, pop culture and media into the work of social change. And I have continued in my work in Indian Country and am as dedicated as ever to Native American art and culture; and hopefully I’ll be bringing the skills that I’ve learned, both around facilitation and around how to advance a dialogue, to this convening.”


    Artists and scholars will convene for a dialogue led by Betsy Theobald Richards about contemporary Native art. The morning and afternoon events and lunch together are $30 per person or $15 for students.
    10 a.m. to noon: Facilitated discussion
    Noon to 1 p.m.: Buffet lunch
    1–3 p.m.: Preview of clips from the Native Art Now! documentary followed by roundtable discussions.
    5–9 p.m.: Native Art Now! exhibit opening celebration. This evening event is $50 for members and $60 for nonmembers.

    SUNDAY, NOV 12
    10:30 a.m. to noon: Fellowship artists convening led by Betsy Theobald Richards. The Eiteljorg Fellows will deliberate on the Fellowship to help forge its future. This event is included with general admission and the public is invited to attend, but please register.

    To register to attend any of the events, contact Mary Whistler at 317.275.1316 or by Nov. 3 or log onto

    Kay WalkingStick -- Wallawa Memory

    Image caption:

    Kay WalkingStick (Cherokee Nation)
    Wallowa Memory, 2003
    Gift: Courtesy of the artist

    Photograph of Betsy Theobald Richards is courtesy of The Opportunity Agenda.

    This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Storyteller magazine.

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