Visit the Reel West at the Eiteljorg’s newest Exhibit

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Love Hollywood’s Westerns? Then you will thoroughly enjoy yourself at the Eiteljorg’s newest exhibit: The Reel West. I received tickets and lunch in exchange for my honest thoughts on this exhibit. All opinions are my own. 

The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art When we first moved to Indiana, as I searched for new experiences, I came across the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. At the time they had a train exhibit I knew my son would love, but as we tried to settle into our new life in a new state, I never made the time to get downtown for that exhibit. 

Well this year, the Eiteljorg has a new exhibit that was something I was interested in – The Reel West. With parents who grew up on farms in the west, Western culture was part of who I was. Since I didn’t grow up in the west and have the real-life experiences of cowboys, I settled for watching old Westerns. 

June happens to be my birthday month, so Mark found a sitter, and for my birthday we visited the Eiteljorg’s The Reel West exhibit together. Since it was a midday date, we started with lunch in the onsite cafe. This buffalo burger was fantastic!

After lunch I was ready to walk around, and immerse myself in one of my favorite cultures – the good old west. Gunfights, cattle drives, train robberies, and saloons. There’s the good guys and the bad guys, and you always knew which side was which. There was no grey area to get lost in – or so I thought! 

See watching westerns as a kid is quite different than watching them as an adult. It’s even more eye-opening to go to the Eiteljorg and see how westerns have been viewed, the messages they were meant to convey, and how they have evolved over the years. 

While Mark busied himself seeing how westerns have evolved over the years, I got sucked into the stereotypes and truly how poorly the different races were portrayed. From Native Americans to Mexicans, to the Asians – all these races played a big part in real life western culture. However, in Hollywood they’re given a side seat. They play the sidekicks, the bad guys, the uneducated, the servants, and even the comedic relief. 

I found it absolutely fascinating to read about the different roles these races played in Westerns. I mean I knew it, but really had never given it more thought. After reading about the portrayal of American Indian’s I decided I had to check out some silent westerns featuring Lillian St Cyr or Princess Red Wing. She was the first Native woman to star on film. 

Now, I’m not saying we have to analyze movies every time we sit down to watch. Just because my eyes have been opened a bit to how western Hollywood culture has shaped the view of the west, doesn’t mean I won’t still enjoy a good John Wayne. 

Speaking of John Wayne, the Eiteljorg has some pretty cool costume pieces on display. Including one of John Wayne’s hats, Gene Autry’s guitar, Roy Rogers and Dale Evan’s hats, and so much more! There’s even a life-size cutout of John Wayne for some fun photo ops. 

While the exhibit isn’t specifically for kids – there’s a theater showing clips that may not be appropriate for the younger audience – there are a few areas I could see kids enjoying. So if you can only visit with kids in tow, check out these displays. An emoji board where you can share what you think of westerns, and a storyboard with all kinds of fabric, color, and people swatches to mix and match for your perfect western. 

After visiting The Reel West, I walked away with a list of movies and TV shows I felt deserved some screen time. Some of these are newer, some are old. Some do a better job of portraying the different races with respect, others are more for fun. 

  • Walk Like A Dragon
  • Deadwood
  • Hell on Wheels
  • High Moon
  • Westworld
  • Woman Walks Ahead

Next time you plan a visit to Indianapolis, I highly suggest stopping by the Eiteljorg. The Reel West exhibit will be throughout 2018, so don’t miss your chance to see some iconic Western scenes, and learn a bit more about how these movies have shaped our western culture. 

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