INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The Eiteljorg Museum’s revamped Indian galleries will feature works spanning more than 170 years when they reopen in June. But visitors don’t start at the beginning, in the middle, or even at the end of that time frame. Instead, they are greeted by artworks with stories that blend past, present, and future.
Hannah Claus’ Water Song: peemitanaahkwahki sakaahkweelo, for example, wraps the origin story of the Miami people in a work she created as a 2019 Contemporary Art Fellow at Eiteljorg. She took photos in her homelands in the Mississinewa and Wabash river basins between Marion, Peru and Wabash.
In the process, Claus, who is a member of the Bay of Quinte Mohawks First Nation, researched the story of how the Miami first made its way out of the water into what is now northern Indiana and southern Michigan, grabbing branches and pulling herself onto the country to go. Digital images, printed in the form of discs on acetate film, hang delicately from threads attached to the ceiling, reflecting the story and the sound waves of a song written above.
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“Water Song” will be an introduction to approximately 300 artworks, with more being added to the installation over time, telling the story of tribes from across North America through a themed presentation that focuses on Aboriginal cultural values in the galleries puts.
“Native American art is on that continuum of what’s considered older or traditional and what’s newer or contemporary — it’s all Native art and they inform each other,” said Dorene Red Cloud, Associate Curator of Native American Art.
The piece will also stand amidst spoken greetings from the Great Lakes tribes and a written acknowledgment of the peoples – including the Miami, Potawatomi, Delaware, Shawnee, Peoria and Kickapoo – who are the original inhabitants of the land the museum now stands on .
The reconstructed Indian Galleries are part of Eiteljorg’s larger Project 2021, a $55 million fundraiser that will expand his endowment and redesign galleries and event spaces. Of particular interest to people from this region is the focus on the Great Lakes Native Americans, which is expanding after the museum acquired a large collection of their art in 2019.
“This is really transformative for the museum. We’ve been traveling a certain way for 30 years, and now we’re looking at art differently and presenting it to the public in a very different way,” said President and CEO John Vanausdall. “It’s going to look so dramatically different and I think it’s a lot more contemporary and inviting for today.”
Prior to the renovation, Native American art was housed in large wooden boxes that were categorized according to their geography, including the forests, plains, Great Basin, and desert southwest. The floor plan was largely the same as it had been since 1989, when the Eiteljorg opened.
Working with his national Native American Advisory Council, the Eiteljorg developed a new vision for the galleries structured around the themes of relationship, continuity and innovation important to all Native American cultures.
Artworks—including jewelry, pottery, prints, portraits, ribbons, and beadwork—are displayed in showcases that open up the space greatly.
“One of the biggest changes from the old exhibition to the new installation is looking at the art through these three main themes, because before that – like many other museums – we took an anthropological look at the art and the people and the cultures and really categorized people by geography areas. So there were people from the prairie, people from the Southwest,” said Elisa Phelps, the vice president and chief curator.
“It’s really a non-native perspective on the arts, the cultures and the peoples.”
The relationship theme explores the connections to spirits, animals, plants, families, communities and nations. Red Cloud said that Native American creation or origin stories will be part of this section. Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and Cahokia Mounds, east of St. Louis, are among the sites that are the ancestors of modern-day tribes but are not properly recognized as such, she said.
“Native people have lived in North America for thousands of years. And when European settlers came to America, they saw these hills and other places and did not honor the native people who lived there,” Red Cloud said. “If you talk to indigenous people who are from these areas, they will tell you, ‘Oh, these are our relatives, these were our ancestors.'”
Continuation celebrates the practices and customs of indigenous peoples who thrive despite assimilation efforts, while it examines forced resettlement and resettlement, and the schools designed to rid children of their culture. Finally, innovation involves the entrepreneurship of local artists in creating and selling their work.
About 15% of the galleries’ artwork comes from the collection Eiteljorg previously acquired from art dealer Richard Pohrt Jr. The items created by the Great Lakes Native Americans in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries provide a broader understanding of Indiana’s past and present.
Pohrt’s new art adds a variety of different works to the museum’s existing Great Lakes collection, which has been small compared to others to date, according to PR manager Bryan Corbin. The Eiteljorg had exhibited some of this work from Miami, Delaware and Potawatomi in Mitohseenionki: The People’s Place since 2002. Now some of these items will be on display in the reconstructed galleries.
Other Miami and Potawatomi artworks previously shown at the galleries were on loan and returned after nearly 20 years of display.
This section of the reinstallation focuses on the tribes’ connections to the Great Lakes, as well as current environmental issues such as pipelines in the region and the repatriation of seed varieties to their place of origin in indigenous communities.
Artworks by people from the Great Lakes and surrounding areas will be drawn through the newly installed galleries and given special prominence in the Connected By Water room. With a dark ceiling and walls, artworks such as textiles and moccasins are housed in lighted boxes.
“You’re going to be in this jewel box-like environment,” Phelps said.
Given the sensitivity of many works to light, the art will rotate, which will help the museum show more of the more than 400 objects from the Pohrt collection, Phelps said.
The tribes’ artistry and skill will be evident, and Red Cloud said the exhibit will provide an opportunity to teach their spiritual beliefs through imagery used in the works, such as those of thunderbirds and underwater panthers. Here, too, past and present come together through works such as a turn-of-the-20th-century bandolier bag with floral beadwork, an art form that continues.
On “the bandolier bags you see a lot of floral patterns – flowers and plants. They are based on people’s knowledge of plants, you know what kind of plants are useful for use as medicine or for food,” Red Cloud said. “The floral beadwork is only found in the Great Lakes area, and artists are still making it today.”
Gallery construction is underway as the Eiteljorg moves into the final fundraising phase of the 2021 project. In October, the museum announced its goal of raising more than $6 million by May, after receiving nearly $49 million during the private phase that began in 2016. The money — $40 million — will be added to its endowment . The remaining $15 million will go to the capital campaign.
The latter includes, alongside the Native American Galleries, the reconstruction of the Western Art Galleries, which reopened in 2018; renovation of the Nina Mason Pulliam Education Center, which reopened in November; and the future expansion of the Allen Whitehill Clowes Sculpture Court event space. Corbin said the museum has so far achieved more than 90% of its overall goal.
Audio descriptions, digital tools, information easily readable for wheelchair users and special lighting for the visually impaired will make the galleries more accessible. Visitors can also touch parts of the exhibitions.
Additions include videos by local artists explaining their work. Those voices are key to telling the stories of the art and the people behind it, Phelps said. Even amid ongoing painful situations in Native American history, Red Cloud said the galleries will show the endurance and joy of their cultures.
“People are still culturally alive and viable, which is reflected in art,” she said. “Art practices are still continuing and evolving, and that’s when we come to innovate and truly celebrate Aboriginal art and diversity.”
Source: The Indianapolis Star
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