With just a glance at the pueblo-inspired museum in White River State Park, you could guess that its permanent holdings include great works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Frederic Remington and N. C. Wyeth. Evoking the landscape and natural elements of the Southwest, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art instantly conveys its purpose through its geographically distinctive design.
The museum celebrates and explores both American West and Native American cultures. It’s the only museum of its kind in the Midwest, and one of only two with this focus east of the Mississippi River.
In the early 1990s, Indianapolis architect Jonathan Hess of Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects created a building that reflects the museum’s unique viewpoint. He traveled to the Southwest and took inspiration from the region’s mesas, canyons and pueblos. His design anchors the museum in a large, round base typical of the circular symbols of Indian pueblo communities. The exterior of the 118,000-square-foot building is constructed of honey-colored dolomite from Minnesota and plum-colored German sandstone.
The first piece of art that museum-goers see is “The Greeter” by George Carlson, a sculpture of deer splashing in a fountain at the front of the building. Around the grounds, more artwork is integrated with the undulating landscape. The grounds are lush with indigenous Indiana plants, which are a preview of the attention paid to regional Native American cultures inside the museum. To fully appreciate the beauty and harmony of the Eiteljorg, take it in from all sides. The back of the museum fronts downtown’s Central Canal. Pedestrians along the Canal can admire a public gathering space enriched with a wood-and-zinc canopy and the Randy Deer & Wayne Zink Symbols of our Universe, an architectural feature that interprets the Native American relationship with the four cardinal directions.
The Eiteljorg has been honored with merit awards from the Indiana Society of Architects and the Indianapolis chapter of the American Institute of Architects.