The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in Indianapolis has announced a $2.83 million grant from the Lilly Endowment in support of the acquisition of a collection of historical Native American art from the Great Lakes region that will figure significantly in a renovation of the museum's Native galleries.
The Richard Pohrt, Jr. collection comprises more than four hundred items from Native nations that call the Great Lakes region home — Ho-Chunk, Meskwaki, Menominee, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi among them — and includes clothing and accessories as well as carved wooden bowls, ladles, war clubs, and hand-woven bags. Featured items from the collection will be integral to the Eiteljorg's Native American galleries when they reopen in late 2021.
Although the museum has rotated art works in and out of exhibits regularly, its second-floor Native American galleries look much as they did when the museum opened in 1989. The museum's five-year Project 2021 plan envisions the galleries being closed for renovation for much of 2021 and reopening in November of that year with a stronger cultural focus on the Great Lakes region. Native American items will be presented in visually appealing installations, and the museum also is developing a classroom curriculum for schoolteachers that will be made available in fall 2021.
In addition to funding the acquisition, shipment, storage, and conservation of the collection, the grant has made it possible for the museum to consult with tribes and communities from which the items originated. During the first step in the process, Eiteljorg staff connected with the nearly fifty Native nations represented in the collection, sending images and provenance information for each item to tribal historic preservation officers and tribal representatives.
"Of great importance is the responsibility we have toward those nations through providing access to...items that were alienated from their communities of origin several generations ago and have been in private collections since," said Scott Shoemaker, the Thomas G. and Susan C. Hoback curator of Native American art, history, and culture at the Eiteljorg and a member of the Miami tribe. "Our collection was lacking in historical items from Native nations with historic and contemporary ties to this region. Acquiring the Pohrt items fills important gaps in the Eiteljorg's collection and will make a crucial difference in furthering the public's awareness and understanding of the Native nations of this region."