Indianapolis - December 15, 2008
The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art has announced the gift of the Helen Cox Kersting Collection of Southwestern Cultural Arts, a multi-million-dollar collection of nearly 800 objects, including the best of Southwestern pottery, jewelry and other objects. The collection will be the basis of a forthcoming book and an exhibition in 2010.
“It is difficult to overstate the significance of this collection to the field of Native American art and specifically to the Eiteljorg Museum. The Helen Cox Kersting Collection is profoundly important to both,” says John Vanausdall, president and CEO, Eiteljorg Museum. “This stunning group of objects will expand the breadth and depth of the Eiteljorg’s holdings of Southwest materials to a dramatic degree and will enrich the museum visitor’s experience for generations to come. We are grateful for Helen’s generosity, and her trust in the Eiteljorg Museum to be the steward of her life’s work and passion.”
Helen Cox Kersting and her collection:
Helen Kersting is a native of Belleville, Illinois and a graduate of the Millikin University School of Music (Decatur, Illinois) and attended the Juilliard School of Music (New York City) debuting with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein. A mezzo soprano, she went to the Cologne, Germany Opera on a four-year contract, met and married Dr. Hans Joachim Kersting and resided in Cologne until her husband’s death in 1999.
Kersting is a devoted collector of the best of Southwestern pottery, jewelry, weavings, baskets and other Native American objects. She began collecting as a child, on travels to the American West with her parents. Throughout her life, she has developed knowledge and a strong sense of connoisseurship
The Kersting jewelry collection of over 300 items includes belts, boxes, rings, bracelets, necklaces, pins, earrings, bolo ties, hair pins and cufflinks. There are pieces older than the use of artist signatures or hallmarks whose origins are still being researched. Zuni examples by master artists Leo Poblano, Leekya, John Gordon Leak and Dan Simplicio are notable. Many of these examples came originally from the historical collection of trader C. G. Wallace. Among the great jewelers represented in the collection are Charles Loloma, Carl Clark, Vernon Haskie, Denise Wallace, and many others. Elegant silver and turquoise examples abound and there are many high art pieces in silver and gold with opal, coral, diamonds, and other materials.
Kersting has been very focused in the creation of her pottery collection of nearly 400 items. A number of prehistoric coiled jars came from her parent’s acquisitions of the 1920s and 1930s, along with quite a few baskets. Historic period San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Zuni, Zia, Santo Domingo, Cochiti and Maricopa pieces ad significantly to the Eiteljorg collection. While the Eiteljorg has a few pots by Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso, the Kersting collection includes an expansive grouping of Maria’s work in different forms and colors, several with her potter son Popovi Da. Kersting has systematically collected the work of extended families of potters and the list of major pieces reads like a blue book of Southwestern potters. Included are Sarafina, Nampeyo of Hano, Paqua Najo, Gloria Kahe, Les Namingha, Rainy Naja, Dora TsePe, Mary Cain, Margaret Tafoya, Tammy Garcia, Autumn Borts, Daisy Hooey Nampeyo, Steve Lucas, Sharon Naranjo Garcia, Joy Navasie, Jacob Koopee, Helen Cordero, Virgil and Inez Ortiz, Desideria, Tonita Roybal, Susan Folwell, Grace Medicine Flower, Nathan Youngblood, Nancy Youngblood, Roxanne Swentzell, Rondina Huma, Tony Da, Jody Naranjo, Carmelita and Carlos Dunlap and many others.
Kersting, who currently lives in Arizona, says, “I have pursued my search for the final custodianship of my cherished Native American collection for a couple of years. The objects always meant very much to my late husband and me. I’d like to tell you of the extraordinary generosity of my German engineer, in whose memory I gift this collection, of his willingness to fly to the US almost every vacation, of spending large sums of money for the acquisition of things originally outside his European and even technical sphere. It is no wonder this intimacy of collecting-devotion earns a special future where it can demonstrate it character and content and be a learning tool of Native Art history for years to come. Simply, I felt and feel all of my hopes could be fulfilled by the Eiteljorg with its vigorous ‘young museum’ mentality.”
The acquisition of the Kersting collection represents a watershed moment as the Eiteljorg Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2009 and looks toward the future.
Says James Nottage, Eiteljorg Museum vice president and chief curatorial officer, “What makes the Kersting collection so valuable and unique is “that it demonstrates both tradition and innovation in Southwestern native arts by providing important examples from multiple generations of individual families of artists. Through their magnificent work we gain better understanding of how their tribal cultures have survived and thrived.”
President John Vanausdall adds, “With acquisition of the Kersting Collection, the museum will devote more energy to collecting and interpreting traditional contemporary arts of Native North America. Through artist in residence programs and our annual Indian Market and Festival, we are bringing living traditions to the museum. As a result of Helen Kersting’s generosity, we can present objects that bear testimony to on-going and developing traditions.”
The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art 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, which opened in 1989, is located in Downtown Indianapolis’ White River State Park. For general information about the museum and to learn more about exhibits and events, call (317) 636-WEST (9378) or visit www.eiteljorg.org.