In the sprawling land around Bargersville, there are no majestic mountain peaks or rainbow-hued canyons.
People won’t find herds of bison or galloping wild horses. Brown bears, mountain lions and moose are in short supply.
But from his home in western Johnson County, artist Mark Kelso creates these and other striking images of the West.
Kelso’s work has once again been included in one of the country’s premier Western art shows this weekend. The Eiteljorg Museum presents Quest for the West, featuring 48 contemporary artists working in the Western American genre who will display and sell newly created artwork, from paintings to sculpture to multimedia pieces.
“We don’t consider Indianapolis to be part of the West, but the museum does a great job of bringing the West to the East, raising awareness and opening the eyes of people who might visit,” Kelso said. “It’s an honor to be part of this show. There’s a specialness to it, because it is my hometown.”
Art sales start on Friday, with the main sale on Saturday. The Quest show opens to the public on Sunday, and pieces will remain hanging through Oct. 8.
The event serves as one of the Eiteljorg’s prime fundraisers, in addition to raising the profile of Western art and artists in this part of the country.
“It’s unique in our offerings in that it’s both an art sale, a big fundraiser for the museum, and a show that is available to the general public for the month,” said Johanna Blume, curator of Western art, history and culture at the Eiteljorg. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase art from living artists who are some of the best working in the overall umbrella of Western American subject matter.”
Quest for the West was launched in 2006 as a way to generate excitement and support for Western American art, allowing artists to reconnect with longtime collectors and meet new ones. People are able to interact with the participating artists in an intimate setting while perusing the collection of portraits, landscapes, still-lifes and sculptures.
In the 18 years since it was founded, the art sale has generated more than $17.5 million in art sales, with artists receiving nearly $13.2 million.
“I always get excited about seeing the art. We select the artists who are participating, and then they can send up to four pieces for the main sale,” Blume said. “Ultimately, they’re making the choice about what to send us. So there’s a little bit of a surprise to it — what are we going to get?”
Kelso has been taking part in Quest for the West for the past seven years, but his experience with the Eiteljorg Museum stretches back much further. He was a student when he visited the museum, finding inspiration in the work of artist Wilson Hurley.
“That was an eye-opener for me, because I didn’t even know people could make a living doing what he did,” he said.
Kelso majored in painting at John Herron School of Art in Indianapolis, where he began incorporating social, philosophical and environmentally oriented content into installation work. After he graduated, his interest in the natural world translated to wildlife art and landscape painting.
With a focus on landscapes and animals, Kelso found his interests were perfect for Western art.
“I started going to Washington state, California, Wyoming, Montana. And inevitably, when you experience a location as an artist, you’re usually inspired by it. You’re moved to express that experience, and for me, it was such a cool thing to do that I couldn’t help but go back to the studio and render what I had experienced,” he said.
For this year’s Quest for the West, he’ll be featuring four paintings with a slightly different focus than he’s used to — emphasis on more the landscapes he’s depicting rather than the animal subjects in them.
“Every piece that I have in the show is really a landscape with an animal as the focal point,” he said.
At the same time, Kelso has been commissioned to paint a portrait of the Eiteljorg’s former president and CEO John Vanausdall, who retired at the end of June after 27 years in that role. His portrait of Vanausdall will not be on view during Quest for the West, but it will be unveiled at the museum at a later date.
“I’m so excited. It’s such an honor,” he said. “The Eiteljorg was an inspiration for me when I was fighting my way to the professional world. It’s always been this inspiration.”
Quest for the West kicks off on Friday with the miniature art sale, an early opportunity for buyers to see this year’s art and make purchases. Many Quest for the West artists create smaller works of art, appealing both to first-time and experienced collectors who seek smaller pieces at lower price points, Blume said. Buyers can take miniature art purchases home that evening.
“It’s these nice little jewels of paintings or bronzes,” Blume said.
On Saturday, the main art sale commences. Buyers can take part in a unique process to acquire the art. Quest for the West is not an auction; instead, a bidder whose name is drawn gets the first right to purchase a particular work of art. If the bidder passes, the next person whose ballot is drawn has the opportunity to buy it.
This process continues until someone accepts and becomes the happy new owner of the artwork.
Other activities surround Quest for the West weekend. Unique dining experiences will be featured in the Eiteljorg’s Allen Whitehill Clowes Sculpture Court. An awards banquet follows the main art sale on Saturday.
“It’s a great opportunity to socialize and meet some of the artists,” Blume said.
Jim Hatzell, an artist, photographer and movie and TV film crew veteran known for his work on projects such as “Dances with Wolves,” “Far and Away,” “Wyatt Earp” and “1883,” the prequel to the hit TV series “Yellowstone,” will speak during two pre-registered events Friday and Saturday.
“Jim comes with a wealth of experience in the film and television industry. He knows many of the artists and worked with many of them. He’s going to be so delightful; he’s a great storyteller,” Blume said.
IF YOU GO
Quest for the West
What: One of the top Western art shows in the country featuring newly created artwork by 48 contemporary artists of the Western American genre, which will be shown and sold during the event.
When: Friday and Saturday; the works will go on display to the public on Sunday and run through Oct. 8.
Where: The Eiteljorg Museum, 500 W. Washington St., Indianapolis
Tickets, information and schedule of events: Go to eiteljorg.org/quest-for-the-west