Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Eiteljorg Insider | 5 Questions with Navajo Rug Auctioneer Sherri Burnham

    by Jaq Nigg, Eiteljorg Festivals and Markets Manager | Oct 04, 2013

    As the general manager of her family business, RB Burnham & Co Trading, Sherri manages the daily operations in the Sanders, AZ trading post as well as all of the 15-17 auctions they produce and conduct, including the Navajo Rug Auction at the Eiteljorg on Oct. 5. She is the fifth generation in her family to work in the business of trading among the Navajo people, and has been doing it for over 17 years. As a Navajo, it is important to Sherri to do what she can to help maintain and preserve cultural traditions.

    If you could invite any artist to dinner, who would it be and why?

    I would love to spend an evening with the late artist RC Gorman. Not only is his art iconic in the southwest, he was also quite a charismatic character. I've heard many stories about him and would loved to have shared a meal with him and his entourage just to learn more about what inspired him.

    How do you spend most of your time?
    While not at work or on the road chasing auctions, I spend most of my time gardening and in the kitchen.

    What book are you reading right now?
    I just finished The Painted Drum, by Louise Erdrich. I am currently trying to read all of her works and am about half way through the list.

    If you had to evacuate your house immediately, what is the one thing you would grab?
    I think I would take as many photo albums as I could, granted that my family was safely out as well. My family home burned down when I was a child and somehow my parents saved our family albums and that seemed most important then and now.

    What sound do you love?
    I love being in the forest listening to birds chirp and the wind rustle the tree branches.

    Browse and bid on more than 200 vintage and contemporary weavings during this year’s auction, presented by R.B. Burnham & Co. Prices ranges from $100 to $10,000.

    IF YOU GO:
    Members only preview 
    8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
    Opens to the public      
    9:30 a.m. 
    Auction begins                        
    11:30 a.m.

    Go comment!

  • Bid on High-End Navajo Rugs, Oct. 5, at the Eiteljorg

    by Robert Tate, Eiteljorg director of merchandising | Sep 24, 2013

    On Saturday, Oct. 5, Eiteljorg members and visitors can raise their hands to bid on more than 200 Navajo rugs during the museum's annual auction. This year, Trader and auctioneer Bruce Burnham has honored our invitation to share his love and knowledge about contemporary and vintage Navajo rugs.
    Burnham’s family has been in the trading business for five generations, which makes him uniquely qualified to answer questions about collecting and displaying Navajo rugs and weavings. 

    The Burnham’s Trading Post is some 40 miles west of Gallup, New Mexico in Northeastern Arizona. Each year, they sell more than $1 million in rugs at 18 auctions. Proceeds from each sale go directly to the Navajo artists who created the rugs or weavings.  The artists gather at the trading post when he returns from auctions to collect their earnings. 

    Burnham, himself, lives on the Navajo reservation where his family has been trading rugs for more than 30 years. When asked recently whether he thought rug weaving was a dying art, he told the Arizona Daily Courier, “It’s not a dying art. There has never been a time you couldn’t open the back of a store and haul out more rugs than you can sell.”

    The Eiteljorg is privileged to have such a special relationship with the Burnham family.  According to their website, the Burnhams are credited with helping to develop several distinct rug styles including the New Lands Raised Outline, Burntwater, Germantown Revival and Spider Rock. Bruce Burnham is known nationwide for his expertise in buying and selling and his company’s innovation and quality in Navajo textiles. You can get a sense of what the Burnhams will bring to Indianapolis for auction if you visit their website at

    We believe this auction is the perfect opportunity for visitors to add to their collection or for new collectors to purchase a first rug or weaving. Those who attend the preview also have the benefit of holding rugs in their hands and examining them up close. The "Members-only" preview is also a great cultural experience which gives visitors an opportunity to learn about Navajo art.  

    Rugs sold at the event will range from $100 to $10,000. The average rug will sell for $350.

    If you’d like to see and feel one of the rugs that will be on display, make a trip to the Eiteljorg Museum Store where we have a 4X6 contemporary rug from R.B. Burnham & Co. on display.

    8:30 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
    Navajo Trader and auctioneer Bruce Burnham leads “Members only” chat 
    *Eiteljorg members only

    9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
    General public arrives for auction preview

    11:30 a.m. – Navajo rug auction begins

    Go comment!

  • Meet Native American Artist-in-Residence Iva Honyestewa this Saturday

    by Linda Montag-Olson, Eiteljorg arts programming manager | Sep 16, 2013

    Each fall the Eiteljorg connects Indiana students with Native artists from across the United States. This may be the only encounter some students have with someone from another culture and the excitement is palpable as they realize American Indians are alive and well today. The public is invited to the studios on Saturday afternoons where the artists will be available to speak with visitors as they work on their own projects.
    Iva Honyestewa (Hopi)
    Meet her at the Eiteljorg, Saturday, Sept. 21
    1 p.m. - 4 p.m.

    This Saturday will be your last chance to meet Iva Honyestewa (Hopi).

    Iva is an award winning artist, who has been creating jewelry and baskets for nearly 20 years. Born in Gallup, NM and raised on the Hopi reservation, Iva owns an arts and crafts gallery in Second Mesa, AZ. Iva will share her basketry and the story of the Hopi baby naming ceremony, as well as talk about the Hopi path of life with visiting classes.  Students will consider and draw their own path of life, setting goals for the future as they work. 

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  • Becoming Two-Spirit | Excerpt from book on Native American Gay Identity and Social Acceptance

    by Brian Joseph Gilley | Photos and additional info provided by DeShong Perry-Smitherman, Eiteljorg public relations manager | Aug 28, 2013

    Traditional Navajo/Diné people recognize four genders and hold a respected place for same-sex unions within their culture.

    The Two-Spirit man occupies a singular place in Native American culture, balancing the male and the female spirit even as he tries to blend gay and Native identity. At 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sep. 28, learn more about the Two-Spirit identity during the screening of Two Spirits and a panel discussion at the Eiteljorg Museum. In his book, Becoming Two-Spirit, Indiana University professor Brian Joseph Gilley features Two-Spirit men who speak frankly of homophobia within their communities, a persistent prejudice that is largely misunderstood or misrepresented by outsiders. Here is an excerpt from the book. 

    Gender Diversity and the Cultural Crossfire
    Two-Spirit men are well aware that at one time in the history of Native America, mostly before European contact, sexual and gender diversity was an everyday aspect of life among indigenous peoples. The following historical overview of Native American gender diversity is intended to help frame the ways contemporary Two-Spirit men are in the cultural crossfire between contemporary constructions of Native identity and historical knowledge. As we will see throughout the book, the history of acceptance of sexuality and gender diversity within Native communities places Two-Spirit men’s desires at odds with contemporary community expectations. Two-Spirit men are well aware that at one time in the history of Native America, mostly before European contact, sexual and gender diversity was an everyday aspect of life among indigenous peoples. The following historical overview of Native American gender diversity is intended to help frame the ways contemporary Two-Spirit men are in the cultural crossfire between contemporary constructions of Native identity and historical knowledge. As we will see throughout the book, the history of acceptance of sexuality and gender diversity within Native communities places Two-Spirit men’s desires at odds with contemporary community expectations.

    What scholars generically refer to “Native American gender diversity” was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples. The fact that there were men among North America’s tribal peoples who preferred to do women’s work, dressed in a mixture of female and male clothing, and had sexual and domestic relationships with men is extensively documented in the academic and colonial –era literature. However, among Native societies these male-bodied gender-different people, referred to as “berdaches” in the academic and colonial literature, were in fact not considered men; rather, they were a separate or third gender (Roscoe 1993:336-349). Lang refers to the male bodied third-gender person as women-men, which I find a convenient descriptive term in lieu of the colonial term berdache (1998, xvi). Not to be confused with transvestitism, this third gender often embodied a mixture of the social, ceremonial, and economic roles of men and women. For example, among the Zuni there were men, women and lhamana. Lhamana was the third gender occupied by a male-bodied person. The lhamana dressed as women and performed women’s crafts such as weaving and potting, but also had the physical strength to fulfill certain male-oriented pursuits such as hunting big game and cutting firewood (Roscoe 1991:22-28).
    - Becoming Two-Spirit, Brian Joseph Gilley, p 7-8

    Gilley's panel and book signing is at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sep. 28 as part of the museum's Out West series. The signing takes place after the screening of the powerful documentary, Two Spirits. This film is about the brief life and tragic hate-crime murder of Two-Spirit teen Fred Martinez. 


    12:30 p.m. Welcome by Gregory Hinton, Out West founder
    12:45 p.m. "Two Spirits" film screening
    1:45 – 3:30 p.m. Panel discussion
    3:30 p.m. DVD/book signing Eiteljorg Museum Store
     - Moderator: Jodi A. Byrd, Ph.D. (Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma), associate professor of American Indian Studies and English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
      - Lydia Nibley, director, Two Spirits
    - Brian Joseph Gilley, Ph.D. (Cherokee of Oklahoma), associate professor of anthropology and director of the First Nations Educational and Cultural Center, Indiana University Bloomington; author of Becoming Two-Spirit
    - Wesley K. Thomas, Ph.D. (Diné), chair/professor, School of Diné Studies, Education & Leadership, Navajo Technical College (Crownpoint, NM)

    About Out West
    Out West was conceived by author and independent curator Gregory Hinton. Hinton created the program series to illuminate positive contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community to the history and culture of the American West.

    Support LGBT Programming at the Eiteljorg
    Donate to

    Help support the screening and discussion of the powerful film, TWO SPIRITS, an acclaimed PBS Independent Lens documentary that tells the story of the brief life and tragic murder of transgender Navajo teen, Fred Martinez. The film, including a panel discussion, will take place at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 28.

    To donate to this project, click
    Power2Give. Chase Bank will contribute one dollar for every dollar donated. To learn more about the film visit the website:

    Photo #1 credit - Historic photo of Navajo couple from the collection of the Museum of New Mexico. Photographer: Bosque Redondo 1866. 


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  • Unlock the mystery of the totem pole

    by Cathy Burton, Eiteljorg Director of Education | Aug 19, 2013

    Marmon Family Totem Pole 

    Author Richard Feldman, M.D. will be in Indy Tuesday, Aug. 19, talking about his new book, Home before the Raven Caws: The Mystery of a Totem Pole

    In 1903, a collection of totem poles were removed from Sitka National Historical Park. The 15 poles were sent to the 1904 World’s Fair, the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition, in Saint Louis. One pole was damaged and moved to another part of the fair. At the end of the fair 13 poles were sent back to Alaska, as promised to the Native Alaskans.  One pole went to the Milwaukee Public Museum. The repaired pole was sold and people lost track of it and thought it was missing. Dr. Feldman discovered that the missing pole was given to David Parry of Indianapolis  and it was placed in the Golden Hill neighborhood in 1905. The pole was the namesake for “Totem Lane” and eventually rotted and fell, in 1939. Dr. Feldman continued the Totem Pole Project research and raised community interest in bringing a new pole to Indianapolis. One of the delightful chapters in the story was to find out that the carver for the new pole, Lee Wallace, was the great-grandson of the original carver.  

    While visiting R.B. Annis Western Family Experience on the Canal level of the Eiteljorg Museum, young people can see a totem pole and build their own using various symbols.

    The Native Haida family who owned the right to tell their ancestral story, the Yeltatsie Family, allowed their story to be carved on the new pole. While not an exact replica, the totem pole, inside at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, carries the same story as the original, the story of Wasgo the sea monster, or what the Haida people would call a sea wolf.

    Dr. Feldman will speak about the tale of the missing pole and how it ended up in Indiana. His talk will be  in the Multipurpose Room at the Indiana Historical Society tomorrow from Noon to 1 p.m. The Historical Society is located at 450 West. Ohio, downtown Indianapolis.

    You’re encouraged to buy or bring in your lunch to enjoy during their Author Series.

    Cathy Burton
    Director of education

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