Gold Rushes, Gay Rodeos, and Ansel Adams at the The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Ansel Adams at the Eiteljorg MuseumThe Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis, Indiana is celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year. Thanks to an array of eclectic exhibits this summer, the museum has also experienced record-breaking attendance. Over 88,000 visitors stopped in at The Eiteljorg Museum during 2014, an increase of nearly 40% over previous years. There were three popular exhibits at the unique museum this summer that sparked visitor curiosity, including a collection of photographs by world renowned photographer Ansel Adams; Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison, a series by the pivotal Native American modernist; and Blake Little, a pictorial collection from gay rodeos of the late twentieth century. Eiteljorg stands out in terms of its visitor experience design, by integrating diverse exhibits on topics that all relate to a central topic (life in the West) from a variety of surprising angles.

The Ansel Adams exhibit was arguably the biggest draw for guests of the Eiteljorg Museum. The exhibit, which was on display at the museum from March to the beginning of this month, featured an extensive collection of beautiful images from the popular visual artist. Visitors caught a one of a kind glimpse of the American West through 80 of Adams’ most iconic photographs. Much of the work featured in the exhibit was some of Adams’ earliest, breathtaking landscape photos he took with an early-model Kodak camera on a family trip to Yosemite. While displaying Ansel Adams photos isn’t in and of itself a surprising exhibit, often these shows are less carefully curated and don’t have the cohesive theming that focuses on a single area or time period from the photographer’s work.Ansel Adams photoModern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison and Blake Little complemented the Adams exhibit nicely. These exhibits helped visitors see the American West from a couple different perspectives. Modern Spirit featured drawings, paintings, and sculptures from the pivotal Native American modernist George Morrison. Morrison’s work focused on concepts related to his love of nature and spirituality. The Modern Spirit contrasted with the Adams exhibit to provide two different views into the significance and aesthetics of the Western landscape.

Blake Little, which ran through July, also provided visitors with a unique view of the American West. The photographs from the prolific Los Angeles based photographer and bull rider gave viewers an intimate glimpse into the lives of homosexual cowboys. Many of the pictures in the exhibit captured touching moments in the midst of intense rodeo action. Blake Little at the Eiteljorg Museum

John Vanausdall, president and CEO of the Eiteljorg says, “Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo and Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison, really gave our guests a welcomed and unexpected surprise.” The powerful combination of exhibits this summer resulted in record-breaking attendance and it’s easy to see why. The museum provides a more nuanced and thoughtful experience for people curious about life and culture in today’s modern West.

The momentum is expected to continue with the announcement of their upcoming exhibit, Gold! Riches and Ruin. The newest installment is set to open at the Eiteljorg Museum next summer, and it’s expected to draw a sizable crowd of local and visiting history buffs. The limited time exhibit will tell the story of the gold rush in the American West from an anthropological perspective. It will focus on how people interacted with the landscape during the mid-nineteenth century and feature an array of artifacts that will give visitors a glimpse into the lives of the time period’s most interesting characters. Work of George Morrison

There are also a number of events scheduled at the Eiteljorg Museum this fall. Special events include the holiday-themed Jingle Rails, a celebration of transportation and the railroad expansion into the American West; performances by well-known local bands; and opportunities to meet and greet artists-in-residence. If you’re interested in seeing how a series of different exhibits can be integrated to allow visitors to emerge with a clearer sense of place and culture, Eiteljorg is well worth a visit.

Images: Eiteljorg Museum

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