After years of planning and months of construction, the new Native American Galleries have opened to the public at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.
The new Native American Galleries allow Eiteljorg visitors to experience Native art in compelling new ways. They are home to the exhibition Expressions of Life: Native Art in North America, featuring beautiful works created by Indigenous artists from across the U.S. and Canada, including beadwork, jewelry, pottery, paintings, textiles, sculptures, glass and contemporary art.
In a departure from the way Native art typically has been presented at museums, the Eiteljorg’s new galleries are a space for Native peoples themselves to be the authority of their own stories. The previous second-floor Native galleries had utilized the same floorplan since the museum opened in 1989 and had arranged artworks by geographic region. By contrast, the new galleries approach the presentation from a Native perspective, and are organized around the themes of Relation, Continuation and Innovation, concepts shared by many Native cultures. Gone are the bulky wooden display cabinets that presented Native art like specimens; instead, all-glass cases provide a 360-degree view of artworks. Audio descriptions for visitors with visual impairments, improved lighting, digital interactives and touch samples contribute to the exhibition being more accessible and inclusive.
As visitors enter the galleries, they will observe a Land Acknowledgement and listen to audio greetings in the languages of the original inhabitants of Indiana, including the Miami, Potawatomi, Delaware and Shawnee. A space within the new galleries, Connected by Water, focuses on the Native peoples of the Great Lakes region and surrounding areas. Many of the compelling works in that space and throughout the exhibition are from a major collection the Eiteljorg acquired in 2019 through a $2.83 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. Digital hubs in the galleries will allow guests to take a deeper dive into topics.
Throughout the exhibition are works by renowned Native artists, including some who previously have participated in the Eiteljorg Indian Market and Festival, the Eiteljorg Contemporary Art Fellowship or the museum’s Artist in Residence program. Also on view will be many artworks that longtime museum members have not experienced before.
In developing the concept for the new Native American Galleries, Eiteljorg curators and museum’s Native American Advisory Council were mindful of the commonalities that Native peoples share. To design, construct and equip the new galleries, the Eiteljorg Museum engaged Origin Studios of Ottawa, Canada, as well as Kubik Maltbie, Inc. of Toronto, Richard Lewis Media Group, Inc., of Watertown, Mass., and F.A. Wilhelm Construction Co., Inc. of Indianapolis. The state-of-the-art casework was built by ClickNetherfield Ltd. in Scotland. Support from a National Endowment for the Arts grant and Lilly Endowment Inc. funded the services of professional mount-makers, who designed and built physical supports for some artworks to keep them stable and secure.
The reconstruction and reinstallation of the Native American Galleries is part of the museum’s Project 2021 capital/endowment campaign. That $55 million project includes other phases: reinstalling the museum’s Western art galleries in 2018; renovating the children’s discovery area, the Nina Mason Pulliam Education Center, in 2021; expanding the multipurpose facility, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Sculpture Court, in summer 2022 so it can host larger events; and tripling the museum’s endowment through gifts and pledges. Thanks to the generosity of many people and organizations who funded the effort with donations, grants, bequests and other gifts, large and small, the Eiteljorg has raised 98.5 percent of its goals for Project 2021. Donations still are accepted at Eiteljorg.org/Project 2021.
The exhibition in the new galleries, Expressions of Life: Native Art in North America, will remain open on an ongoing basis during regular museum days and hours; it is included with regular Eiteljorg admission.
About the Eiteljorg
A cultural pillar for 33 years in downtown Indianapolis’ scenic White River State Park, the Eiteljorg Museum seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the arts, histories and cultures of the Native peoples of North America and of the American West by telling amazing stories. Located on the Central Canal at 500 West Washington St., the Eiteljorg is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. It was named one of the USA Today Readers’ Choice 10 Best Indiana Attractions.