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Enhancing the Eiteljorg

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Exterior of the Eiteljorg Museum
  • Exterior of the Eiteljorg Museum

I imagine him holding his breath in his quiet office, having waited to call her until after hours when he knows he won’t be interrupted.

A thin film of sweat forms on his upper lip. His hands shake as he dials her number.

He waits while it rings.

In 2008, mezzo soprano and art connoisseur Helen Cox Kersting gifted her almost-800-piece collection of southwestern art to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art (500 W. Washington Street). She had been looking for a home for the works and was introduced to Eiteljorg president and CEO John Vanausdall by a mutual friend. The formation of their friendship resulted in “Generations: The Helen Cox Kersting Collection of Southwestern Cultural Arts,” which is on display until August 8.

Viewing the Navajo weavings, baskets, jewelry, pottery, and katsina dolls was like a grand return to my childhood in Santa Fe. In addition to visiting the plaza downtown where artisans sold their wares, my family and I would go on day trips to pueblos, some of which may have generated works that Kersting later collected. I like thinking we might share that small connection.

The museum’s acquisition is significant for the impact it has on the artists that are represented, as well as the families who will see the collection. Some of the pottery I saw was by a parent whose child became a ceramicist in his or her own right. That alone is enough to make the works special. When the Eiteljorg says, “[The art] will enrich the museum visitor’s experience for generations to come,” they aren’t kidding.

As I prepare to leave the exhibit, I find myself thinking again of Vanausdall and what it must have been like when he found out the Eiteljorg was receiving such a tremendous gift. I don’t know him, Ms. Kersting, or have any connection to museums besides liking them, and the thought of a whispered “We got it...” makes ME a little dizzy. I hope he was sitting down when he found out.

Read more about the exhibition here, where the 12-minute video “The Forces of Nature” is also available.

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