All that Glitters… New Eiteljorg Museum Exhibit Tells True Stories of America’s Gold Rushes

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Special show explores stories of greed, innovation, success and failure in the quest for gold and the world’s continuing fascination with this rare and valuable mineral.

Loan: Courtesy of Greg and Petra Martin, Photography by Hadley Fruits

Gold hair comb, cup, ring, and nuggets that will be featured in Gold! Riches and Ruin. Loan: Courtesy of Greg and Petra Martin, Photography by Hadley Fruits

The show celebrates the stories of those who struck it rich, but recognizes the unlucky ones who lost everything in their quest for riches.

What could tempt a doctor and his wife to leave their children and risk their lives? Persuade financiers to gamble on risky exploits? Redraw the face of the American landscape? The insatiable pursuit for unimaginable wealth… the lure of quick money… gold. On Mar. 7, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art will open Gold! Riches and Ruin, a new exhibit that explores a valuable mineral – and all the glitter and greed attached to the desire to get it.

“Our guests will see gold in all its forms – gold bars, gold jewelry and gold nuggets,” says John Vanausdall, Eiteljorg president and CEO. “But they will also witness some of the most compelling stories ever told related to the hunt for gold.”

Gold! Riches and Ruin will demonstrate how the hunt for gold in the West changed the demography of an entire region, and had a profound impact on Native American populations. Gold rushes lured men and women from all walks of life, from all around the world, to places like California, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Canadian Yukon and Alaska in pursuit of wealth and adventure.

According to Johanna Blume, exhibit curator, visitors to the museum will get to “meet” a host of fortune seekers. Blume says stories in the exhibit illustrate the “perseverance and adventure” involved in striking it rich, but also the “ravenousness, violence, sacrifice and failure.”

“The show celebrates the stories of those who struck it rich, but recognizes the unlucky ones who lost everything in their quest for riches," Blume said.

Captivating accounts from gold rush experiences, spanning the 1840s to the 1910s, told through art and artifacts will come alive through comprehensive programs, interactive media and hands-on S.T.E.M. (Science Technology Engineering and Math) activities. The exhibit will also explore the broader appeal of gold up to the present day. Guests will see and experience:

  • Gold nuggets, coins, bars, jewelry and more
  • Gold mining equipment and tools
  • Paintings, journals and diaries, clothing and personal effects that belonged to prospective gold miners
  • Bars of gold salvaged from the shipwreck of the SS Central America, a steamship that sank off the Carolina coast in 1857 loaded with thousands of pounds of gold from the California gold fields
  • Science-focused activities which will lead students to think about how gold is sought, the technology used to extract it and the impact mining has on the environment.
  • An outdoor gold panning experience which will allow visitors to pan for “gold” and then use that gold to “purchase” an item in the Frank and Katrina Basile Museum Store.

Gold! Riches and Ruin will be celebrated with an opening night party and exhibit preview, at 6 p.m., Friday, Mar. 6. Tickets range from $40 - $55. At the event guests will actually be able to search the museum for “gold.” The guest who finds the most will win gold jewelry. Gold! closes Aug. 9.

Presenting sponsors of Gold! are Wells Fargo and Eli Lilly and Company Foundation with sponsorship support from Capital Group Companies and Barnes & Thornburg LLP.

The Eiteljorg Museum seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the indigenous peoples of North America. The museum is located in Downtown Indianapolis’ White River State Park, at 500 West Washington, Indianapolis, IN 46204. For general information about the museum and to learn more about exhibits and events, call 317.636.WEST (9378) or visit http://www.eiteljorg.org.

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DeShong Perry-Smitherman
Eiteljorg Museum
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