News Release: Beautiful sculptures by blind Native American sculptor are a multisensory experience

Touchable exhibition of artist Michael Naranjo’s work is at Eiteljorg through Feb. 7, 2021


Michael Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo, born 1944)
Glory, 2005
Bronze, Edition of 10
12 x 11 x 7 inches
Loan courtesy Michael and Laurie Naranjo

INDIANAPOLIS – A new exhibition that opened Jan. 18 at the Eiteljorg Museum is accessible to everyone, including the blind and visually impaired. The exhibit features bronze sculptures that guests are permitted to touch, if they choose. Created by renowned Native American artist Michael Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo), who was blinded by an injury, the sculptures are touchable so that visitors with limited or no vision can experience and appreciate his art.

Please Touch! The Sculptures of Michael Naranjo features approximately 30 sculptures that span the artist’s 50-year sculpting career, including depictions of birds and animals in realistic poses, people in motion and mythical creatures. Naranjo, 75, grew up in Taos, New Mexico, where his mother Rose Naranjo was a noted pottery artist. While serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War in 1968, Michael Naranjo suffered near-fatal combat injuries in a grenade blast. With a total loss of his vision and the loss of use of his right hand, Naranjo during his convalescence began to sculpt clay with his left hand. Eventually that pursuit led him to a professional career as a sculptor whose works are highly admired.

Naranjo’s sculptures now are in the collections of the Vatican, the White House, the New Mexico State Capitol and other institutions. This is the second time the Eiteljorg Museum has presented an Indianapolis exhibition of his work; during his earlier show in 1992, the Eiteljorg became the first museum to allow visitors to not only view but also touch Naranjo’s sculptures.

The title of this new exhibition, Please Touch!, is a gentle rebuff of the standard warning signs stating “Please Do Not Touch” often found in art museums. The Naranjo exhibition includes Braille labels and audio descriptions.

Please Touch! originally was scheduled to last from Jan. 18 to July 26, 2020, in the museum’s Gerald and Dorit Paul Gallery. Due to the pandemic, the Eiteljorg has extended the exhibition until Feb. 7, 2021, so that more visitors can experience it.

While serving as artist in residence at the Eiteljorg in February, Naranjo worked with students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), teaching sculpting and aiding students in the creation of ceramic busts. Naranjo’s artist residency was made possible through a partnership between the Eiteljorg and the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF) on an initiative called No Limits, which aims to strengthen inclusiveness in the arts for individuals with disabilities.

“We are honored to have this opportunity to share Michael Naranjo’s beautiful sculptures and personal story with a new generation, and provide increased accessibility for blind and visually impaired visitors,” said Elisa Phelps, Eiteljorg vice president and chief curatorial officer. “The exhibit has been a catalyst in shifting our thinking about accessibility and visitor experiences, and will inform our approach to future exhibits,” she said.

Pieces in the exhibition are on loan from the TIA Collection in Santa Fe, N.M., and from the personal collection of Michael and Laurie Naranjo. The exhibition Please Touch! The Sculptures of Michael Naranjo is curated by Jennifer Complo McNutt, Eiteljorg curator of contemporary art, and Dorene Red Cloud (Oglala Lakota), assistant curator of Native American art.

Please Touch! The Sculptures of Michael Naranjo is sponsored by Bosma Enterprises, the Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation (IBCF), the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI), the No Limits arts series, Lilly Endowment Inc., Care Institute Group Inc., the Indiana Arts Commission, the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the City of Indianapolis.

Michael Naranjo (Santa Clara Pueblo, born 1944)
Eagle and Fish, 1977
Bronze, Edition of 12
5.5 x 36 x 12 inches
Loan courtesy of TIA Collection

About the Eiteljorg Museum
In 2019, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art in White River State Park celebrated 30 years of telling amazing stories. The Eiteljorg seeks to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the art, history and cultures of the American West and the Indigenous peoples of North America. Located on the Central Canal at 500 West Washington St., the Eiteljorg Museum was named one of the USA Today Readers’ Choice 10 Best Indiana Attractions.

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Museum Info

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500 W. Washington St.
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Snow Globe Workshop

December 10 @ 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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Sensory-Friendly Day

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