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The Master's Museum Set 

A large selection of the stunning black-and-white works created by legendary American photographer Ansel Adams finds a temporary home in Indianapolis again. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art will feature the exhibit as a part of its yearlong observance of the museum's 25th anniversary.

The show, which opens March 1, features more than 80 of Adams' iconic photographs of this country's majestic landscapes. This portfolio includes images from Yosemite National Park, the Pacific Coast, the Southwest, Alaska, Hawaii and the Northwest. Referred to as "The Museum Set," the photographs were personally chosen by Adams, who died in 1984.

This won't mark the first time the exhibit has been at the Eiteljorg. But it was so popular in 2001 -- with lines of visitors snaking out the door -- that it just made sense to bring it back, and this time for five months instead of two, according to John Vanausdall, Eiteljorg President and CEO.

In advance of the opening, we asked Eiteljorg Vice President and Chief Curatorial Officer James Nottage, who curated the exhibition, a few questions about the show.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942; Collection Center for Creative Photography © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust - ANSEL ADAMS
  • Ansel Adams
  • Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona, 1942; Collection Center for Creative Photography © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Sky Blue Window: How long did it take to put together?

James Nottage: We first scheduled it three years ago, (and spent) the last year assembling it.

SBW: Why did you bring this exhibit back to the Eiteljorg?

JN: He is one of those iconic American artists. If you ask the public to name a photographer who is a famous photographer, they are likely to come up with Ansel Adams.

SBW: What do you hope people will come away with when they see the exhibit?

JN: I think more than anything, we want them to appreciate Ansel Adams as an artist, and closely in combination with that, we want them to appreciate the environments (that are the subjects of the images). Being able to preserve those scenes is very dependent on concern about the environment.

Q: What is something you didn't know about Adams that you learned while curating this?

JN: There are little things most people don't know. He was 14 when he first got his camera and visited Yosemite as a tourist. His initial ambition was to be a concert pianist. He was a complicated human being. Art for him was photography, but art also came in additional forms including music.

SBW: Teenagers who come to the show will be used to creating images with their mobile phones. They don't use film, much less a darkroom, like Adams did. How are you communicating information on the way Adams created his images?

JN: In the case of this exhibit, we do so through film that shows him working in the darkroom. One of the easy explanations we would use in programs related to the show is that the photograph and the development did not involve a computer in the way people think of today. The computer was the mind of the artist, which allowed him to make the most of the image he had taken with the camera.

Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite, 1960; Collection Center for Creative Photography - © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust - ANSEL ADAMS
  • Ansel Adams
  • Moon and Half Dome, Yosemite, 1960; Collection Center for Creative Photography© The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

SBW: This exhibit has a guest curator, Jonathan Spaulding, author of the 1995 book, "Ansel Adams and the American Landscape." How did he help?

JN: Jonathan wrote the script for the exhibit and is responsible for the organization of the exhibit.

SBW:Adams' son, Michael, was expected for the opening of the show, but he won't be attending. Why the change of plans?

JN: [There was an unexpected illness in his family.] We are working with him to bring him back a little later in the year.

SBW: What kind of a guy was Ansel Adams?

JN: From everything I learned about him, he was a warm human being, and he had a nice sense of humor. He was a likeable individual and very dedicated to his work.

SBW: Where did he live?

JN: California.

SBW: Did he become rich and famous while he was still alive?

JN: He certainly became famous. His prints sold well. His book publications were exceedingly popular ... so he was quite famous and successful.


The "Ansel Adams" exhibition opens March 1 and runs through Aug. 3. A preview party, which costs $55 for nonmembers and $45 for members, will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 28.

Throughout the exhibit's five-month run, the museum will host a variety of connected special programs, including a photography contest. For more information, visit Eiteljorg.org.

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Cathy Kightlinger

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The first 20 years of Cathy Kightlinger’s career were spent as a newspaper reporter and columnist, so she is new to freelance writing. In her most recent role as The Indianapolis Star’s social columnist, Cathy wrote about fascinating people and parties, big and small. Fabulous shoes and contemporary art make her... more

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