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The Reel West: Exhibit Has Props, Costumes From Your Favorite Westerns

You'll also learn how Westerns reflect the American story.

INDIANAPOLIS--The "Reel West" is coming to India na. The new exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, opens this Saturday, and right out of the gate Cathy Smith, costume designer from Dances With Wolves, will give the first presentation.

That opens the nearly year-long exhibit that brings Western movies costumes, props, memorabilia, art and images to Indiana. You can see costumes worn by John Wayne, Matt Dillon's hat from Gunsmoke, part of the Lone Ranger costume worn by Clayton Moore and the full costume worn by Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of "True Grit".

But, that's just part of what the exhibit is about. 

"The exhibit explores how Westerns in the movies and on TV tell stories of morality, diversity and American identity," said Bryan Corbin, spokesperson for the Eiteljorg. 

If you're a fan of Westerns, you know that the way they depict women and American Indians and other groups, has changed over the years. Corbin said the exhibit will also look at that aspect of the genre.

"In the early days obviously, there were very misleading representations put out by Hollywood. But, today films are somewhat more accurate in their portrayals of what life was like in the west."

The Reel West explores how Westerns have shaped Americans’ perceptions of their own national identity and how those themes in Westerns have evolved over time.

LINK: Eiteljorg website:

“Not only will The Reel West spur memories of going to the movies to see your favorite heroes and villains, it will spark conversations between generations about what Westerns say and portray about our nation and where the onscreen myths differed from reality,” said Eiteljorg President and CEO John Vanausdall. 

“Many special programming events are scheduled during the run of the exhibit where guests can learn more about how Westerns were made, thus enhancing their appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of the genre.”

Among the interesting things you will be able to see in The Reel West are: 

  • A mask, hat, costume, gun belt and scarf worn by The Lone Ranger, actor Clayton Moore
  • A full costume worn by Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in the Coen Brothers’ 2010 remake of True Grit
  • Two hats worn by Clint Eastwood, on his early 1960s TV show Rawhide and years later in his 1985 film Pale Rider
  • A costume worn by a sword-wielding Catherine Zeta-Jones in the 2005 film, The Legend of Zorro 
  • Western hats or other costume items worn on camera during several eras by Western performers  such as John Wayne, Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, James Arness, the cast of Bonanza, plus Sam Elliott, Anjelica Huston, Jamie Foxx and many others 
  • Interactive technology including touchscreens that museum-goers can use to watch clips from Westerns and explore in greater detail the themes of morality, diversity and identity that Westerns portray
  • A small movie theater showing clips from well-known Western movies.

Beyond the art on exhibit, The Reel West also includes fascinating programming events such as:

  • Presentations by experts on Western films, including Dances with Wolves costume designer Cathy Smith on March 3, film scholar Dr. Sue Matheson on March 31 and Emmy award-winning writer Kirk Ellis of Into the West on April 7.
  • A silent-film double feature accompanied by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, performed March 10 and 11 at the Schrott Center for the Arts
  • Western movie screenings at the Eiteljorg, plus additional screenings held at the IMAX Theater at the nearby Indiana State Museum.

PHOTO: Alamy Productions: The Gunfighter/William S. Hart

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