Those familiar with the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art will recall the museum’s second floor members’ room: a spacious, welcoming area furnished with comfy leather couches and, of course, art. But if you’ve attended the museum in the past year or so and looked forward to hanging out there, you’ve either been disappointed or delighted to discover the room transformed. Now dubbed the Gerald and Dorit Paul Gallery, the exhibition space allows for relatively smaller, more intimate collections to be displayed — either from the museum’s permanent collection or otherwise.
Navajo saddle blanket, Germantown, ca. 1890
Now through Sept. 7, the latest installment of the museum’s “Indiana Collects the West” series is on view here: the tightly curated Navajo Weavings from the Korb Collection. Individual collections often comprise the stars of any museum’s holdings. Institutions, in fact, nurture collectors for years in the hopes that expertly accrued works of art within a genre are bequeathed. This is not only desirable but also necessary for museums that often find themselves most challenged in the area of funding new purchases. The Eiteljorg is one of Indiana’s institutions that has developed a number of programs developed in part or in whole towards that end: that is, building its acquisitions. The biannual New Art of the West is one such program, and, in part, its prestigious Native American Fellowship held each year that recognizes the best of the best Native artists. The aforementioned Korb Collection offers a focused but expansive view of a genre within a genre: specifically, Navajo weavings. Donald B. and Jean O. Korb of Evansville were smitten with the patterns of Germantown Navajo weavings when they first visited Arizona in 1990. Since that time, the Korbs have taken it upon themselves to build a collection of weavings that, like many such homogeneous collections, offers art of both anthropological and aesthetic value. Further, the Korbs have promised their fine collection to the museum’s permanent collection. Downstairs in the more expansive, special exhibition space, an exhibit along the same lines — but one to which another institution lays claim — is on view: Woven Worlds: Basketry from the Clark Field Collection at the Philbrook Museum of Art. The Philbrook, in Tulsa, Okla., had a long-term relationship with Clark Field, a collector of Native American baskets and pottery. Field, who led a colorful life that included early wealth followed by sudden poverty when his father lost everything in the Depression, developed an early appreciation for Native American arts as one who grew up among the tribal diasporas and dramatic shift in early American cultural lifeways. Clark seemed both sympathetic to the plight of Native Americans and interested in their arts from an objective distance. But Clark’s vision remained constant, and the results of his unwavering eye afford us the opportunity to learn more about our country’s Native heritage, specifically through the ancient art of basketmaking, and thus have the chance to appreciate what was lost on the path towards our current comforts. The sad tale of the degradation of Native American cultures is too big for this particular forum, but a visit to the museum will offer an opportunity for reflection. Clark Field and present-day collectors such as the Korbs provide a valuable venue for such contemplation. Where do we come from, and where are we headed? What is being destroyed along the way — and how can we halt such destruction? Woven Worlds and Navajo Weavings from the Korb Collection are on view through Sept. 7 at the Eiteljorg Museum, 500 W. Washington St., phone 636-9378, www.eiteljorg.org.