Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

What's on View at the Eiteljorg Museum

Indianapolis, Indiana

The Eiteljorg Museum, courtesy of the museum

Opened in 1989, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art is a unique treasure in downtown Indianapolis. The museum was founded by Harrison Eiteljorg, a local businessman and passionate art collector who was fascinated by the art and culture of the Western United States. He spent significant time in Taos, New Mexico, and even traveled with the museum’s architect, Jonathan Hess, throughout the West in search of inspiration for their project.

The museum offers an extensive and diverse permanent collection, as well as year-round events such as the 19th Annual Indian Market and Festival, which will take place this weekend on June 25-26. But of particular interest at the Eiteljorg this summer is the exhibit Red/Black: Related Through History, on view through August 7th in collaboration with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. In exploring the long, often uneasy and complicated relationship between Native Americans and African Americans, the museum presents a range of artifacts, from paintings and poems to personal narratives. The two groups have been both friend and foe, and the fascinating presentation of Red/Black carefully documents the changing nature of their relationship from the 16th century into the present. At the heart of this exhibit is the challenging question, “Who am I and who gets to say so?”

Below, the Eiteljorg Museum's Anthony Scott walks us through a few of highlights from the exhibit.

Robert Banks, Cherokee Freedman. © Peggy Fontenot (Potawatoml/Patawomack/Cherokee)

Above is a photograph of Robert Banks, a descendent of a Cherokee Freedman. Following the Civil War, slaves owned by the Cherokee Nation were freed and granted citizenship in the tribe. The status of Freedmen was uneasy, and in 2007, an amendment was added to the Cherokee Constitution revoking the tribal membership of Freedmen descendants. In January 2011, a tribal court overruled this amendment, a decision which is now being appealed.

Radmilla Cody (Navajo/African-American). Photo courtesy of John Running

Radmilla Cody is a biracial Navajo/African-American woman who had trouble fitting in with either race. On the Navajo reservation where she was raised by her grandmother, she was taunted for looking “too black.” When she visited her father, who was African-American, she felt excluded from the community because of her differences in background. Cody has gone on to become a model, singer, and activist for women who have suffered from domestic violence. She was the first biracial woman to become Miss Navajo Nation, an honor she held from 1997-1998.

Jimi Hendrix, The Royal Albert Hall, London, Feb. 18, 1969. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Many famous African Americans were proud of their Native heritage, including Jimmi Hendrix. Hendrix, whose parents divorced when he was nine and who lost his mother as a teen, spent part of his turbulent childhood living in Canada with his Cherokee grandmother. Hendrix was the first member of the Native American Music Hall of Fame, a diverse group of honorees that also includes country artists Kitty Wells and Hank Williams.

Lucinda Davis, about 1937, former Creek slave. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Lucinda Davis was a freed slave once owned by the Creek Nation. She was fluent in both English and Creek. Her stories were documented through interviews conducted by the WPA in 1937. She was thought to be 89 at the time of this photograph.

IndiosKikapoosPresentados a Maximiliano. Hand-colored engraving, ca. 1865. On loan, courtesy of anonymous collector

When the Kickapoo went to Mexico City, their entourage included black Seminoles who served as guides and translators. The man in this print could be either John Kibbetts or his son Robert. For the most part, such translators on the frontier have become a nearly invisible part of the history of both Native and African Americans.

Please visit the Blue Star Museum website for more information about the program and to find participating museums.

Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
500 W. Washington Street
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

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