(Oct. 1, 1903 – Apr. 29, 1997). Harrison Eiteljorg was born in Indianapolis to Albert J. and Estella Hower Eiteljorg. The Eiteljorgs descended from German immigrants and chose Indianapolis for Albert’s dentistry practice. Harrison, known as Harri, graduated from Brooks Academy for Boys in 1918 and attended law school at Indiana University for a year, before realizing that the law was not a good fit. He returned to Indianapolis in 1922, where he worked as a reporter and in advertising. He married Edith Morgan in 1933. The couple had two sons, Jack and Nick (Harrison II).

Cindy (left), Harrison (center), and Mindy Eiteljorg (right) at the opening ceremony of Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, June 24, 1989.
Credit: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art Library

Eiteljorg entered the Morgan family’s wholesale coal and brokerage company, Morgan Mines. He became general manager in 1942, then president and manager of a new partnership, Morgan Coal, in 1947. At that time, Morgan Coal had strip mines and reserves in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

Eiteljorg soon leased coal deposits in Colorado and began frequent travel to investigate areas for exploration. Through traveling, he fell in love with the landscape, architecture, and art of the American West. But Eiteljorg’s extensive travel took its toll on his family life. He and Edith divorced in 1954; Edith signed over her interest in the company to him as part of the divorce agreement. Eiteljorg married Sonja Tarsey Sims in 1958, becoming stepfather to her three children.

Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, ca. 1990s
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

Western travel yielded both coal leases and Eiteljorg’s knowledge and appreciation of Western art. He discovered Taos, New Mexico, and developed a passion for the art and culture of the area. He loved associating with the artists and their families as well as profusely collecting a wide variety of art, artifacts, furniture, and bronzes. As Eiteljorg’s collection grew, he faced problems with space and opened an art gallery in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, and in Indianapolis. He began to dream of a permanent home for his entire collection.

Eiteljorg became a trustee of the Herron Museum of Art in 1962. After the museum separated from the art school and relocated to the Indianapolis Museum Of Art (IMA), Eiteljorg served as IMA’s board chair for a decade (1974-1984). IMA opened the Harrison Eiteljorg Gallery in 1976 but was reluctant to exhibit Western art permanently. Serendipitously, the state legislature established the White River Park Commission in 1979, which led to discussions between Eiteljorg and the city to create the Eiteljorg Museum in the new cultural park downtown. He was involved in every aspect of planning, building, and staffing the new museum, which opened in June 1989.

Revised March 2021

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