“Titan of the West,” open through Feb. 5, showcases the art collection of Kenneth “Bud” Adams, the former owner of the Tennessee Titans who died in 2013. Adams had amassed a group of more than 300 depictions of the American West, as well as clothing, pottery, smoking pipes and other artifacts from Native Americans.

In his will, Adams bequeathed the artwork to the Eiteljorg, a significant addition to its existing collection.

“It’s a rich and quite beautiful collection,” said James Nottage, vice president and chief curatorial officer of the Eiteljorg. “You can appreciate that both native and non-native cultures have beautiful artistic traditions. They may be done with different techniques or materials, but in each case, they’re reflective of cultural ideals and values.”

The exhibition features 60 paintings. In order to tell stories of the West, the exhibition is arranged by themes — how art can convey the culture of those who lived in that rugged land and how it can also reflect tribal identify for native populations.

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Visitors can peer through a window into the West in the late 1800s and early 1900s, portrayed in masterpieces by artists such as Frederic Remington, Charles Russell and Thomas Moran.

Works by representatives of the Taos Society of Artists such as E.I. Couse and Oscar Berninghaus capture the rich color and stunning visuals of the Southwest.

Some of the pieces come from little-known artists such as Emil Lenders, whose portrait of Osage chief Bacon Rind captures an important leader in Oklahoma.

“Lenders was kind of obscure,” Nottage said. “(Adams) recognized the importance of major names, and he certainly collected them. But he collected many different artists.”

The collection also includes 90 authentic items used by Native American tribes. Exquisite bead work of the Crow, baskets woven by members of the Cherokee and clothing from the Osage are all part of the exhibit.

“It’s an unusual thing that he collected both Native American artifacts and traditional art of the West. His interest in the West was real, and you can see this in the collection itself,” Nottage said.

Adams was a wealthy Houston businessman and rancher whose family was active in the oil and natural gas industry. He was the owner of the Houston Oilers — later the Tennessee Titans — and helped co-found the American Football League, which eventually merged with the National Football League to create professional football as it’s known today.

Much of his identity stemmed from his experiences in the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma. But just as central was his Cherokee heritage. He was an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, whose ancestors were forced from Tennessee on the infamous Trail of Tears.

“He was very conscious of his heritage; I think it was one of the things that motivated his collecting,” Nottage said.

Adams also had Indiana ties. He graduated from Culver Military Academy in 1940, a connection that led directly to his relationship with the Eiteljorg.

The Eiteljorg co-produced an exhibition in 1993 featuring art collections of Culver alumni. Adams was one of the collectors featured in that exhibition.

Throughout the years following the show, the museum remained in contact with Adams. Museum officials such as Nottage and CEO John Vanausdall took time to meet with him at his home and office in Texas.

Whenever the Titans came to play the Indianapolis Colts, Vanausdall invited Adams to the museum.

“It was clear that we were interested in his collection. But we did not know that it was going to be given to us,” Nottage said.

Unbeknownst to the museum, Adams had left his entire Native American and Western art collection to the Eiteljorg. Vanausdall received a phone call following Adams’ death informing him of the arrangement.

From the family’s perspective, it was a fitting home for the art.

“The Eiteljorg Museum is one of the premier museums of Native American artifacts and Western art in North America, and it is appropriate that these priceless treasures will be housed at the Eiteljorg permanently,” wrote Amy Adams Strunk, Adams’ daughter, in a statement. “This collection was very special to my father, and our family hopes that those who view these items on display will walk away with the same sense of wonder and appreciation for the culture and heritage that these unique artifacts and works of art represent.”

The collection was moved to the Eiteljorg in the spring of 2015, and staff members have been working since then to catalog and research each piece.

They did thorough condition surveys and worked to ensure the pieces were preserved and ready to be displayed. That meant checking leather and beaded artifacts for remnants of heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic that might have been left behind.

“It’s just due caution, but we didn’t have any problems,” Nottage said.

Besides capturing important pieces of art from the American West, the donation also helped make the Eiteljorg’s own collection better-rounded, Nottage said.

The museum is already a leader in the genre, as one of only two institutions east of the Mississippi River to feature both Native American and Western art. The influx of more than 300 works only makes their prominence stronger.

“This helps enrich our collection, filling gaps in our holdings, and (is) an acknowledging of the importance of the Eiteljorg Museum,” Nottage said.

If you go

Titan of the West

What: An exhibition of 60 paintings and 90 Native American artifacts focusing on life in the American West, all from the collection of Kenneth “Bud” Adams, former owner of the Tennessee Titans.

Where: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art, 500 W. Washington St., Indianapolis

When: Through Feb. 5

What’s included: Beaded and quilled clothing from Plains tribes, pottery and weaving the Southwest, Cherokee basketry, as well as horse gear, smoking pipes and moccasins.

Admission: Adults, $13; seniors age 65 and up, $11; children age 5 to 17, $7; children 4 and under, free; Native Americans and IUPUI students and faculty, free.

Special programs:

Jan. 6: Noon to 12:20 p.m., “Charles Schreyvogel, Moving Pictures,” a discussion of the work of painter Charles Schreyvogel.

Feb. 3: Noon to 12:20 p.m., “Visions of the Southwest: Paintings of Taos and Santa Fe in the Adams Collection.”

Information: eiteljorg.org

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.