Mr. Irsay pays a visit

by Dale Ogden, Senior Curator of Cultural History

You may recall from a previous blog post that the Indiana State Museum will host Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay’s NFL Owner’s Party during the week of Super Bowl XLVI in Indy in January. We’re also producing the exhibition, Chaos is a Friend of Mine: Cultural Icons from the Jim Irsay Collection, which will allow us to continue the Super Bowl-related festivities through early May. Famous rock guitars, Colts championship memorabilia, historic documents, and other pop culture artifacts from Mr. Irsay’s collection will be featured in this exhibit.

Jim Irsay rocks out on Jerry Garcia's "Tiger" guitar during a visit to the Indiana State Museum.

Whether he’s jamming with Stephen Stills, accompanying the Colts to Miami, indulging his OCD Twitter addiction, or engaging in any one of his other seemingly limitless pursuits, Jim Irsay can be a hard man to pin down in any one place at any one time. So we were pleased when he agreed to come to the museum and sit with a couple of local journalists to talk about the upcoming exhibition (watch Ray Cortopassi’s Fox59 story!).

Many great actors think they’d make a great rock god. Some museum curators believe they’d make great novelists. A wealthy industrialist may imagine himself as a great poet. One thing for sure, as a classically trained guitarist, Jim Irsay knows his way around an axe. So, of course, the reporters wanted him to break out a couple of random instruments and hit a few hot licks. So while our registrar Kara Vetter and I stood around fidgeting and trembling in our white cotton museum gloves, Mr. Irsay banged out a few bars on Elvis Presley’s ’75 Martin. Not content with acoustic stylings, the press goaded him into plugging in Grateful Dead front man Jerry Garcia’s legendary “Tiger,” one of the most beautiful guitars that’s ever been hand-crafted.

Jim Irsay and Fox59's Ray Cortopassi look at a copy of the first issue of Playboy featuring Marilyn Monroe on the cover.

When, at long last, the reporters tired of Pete Townsend riffs and Bob Dylan lyrics, we moved on to other toys. The Super Bowl XLI trophy was held aloft. We were going to thumb through the first issue of “Playboy” — the one that features Marilyn Monroe, but it had already been prepped for display by our sometimes overly conscientious staff. When asked what he would tweet about the magazine, Mr. Irsay broke up the place with, “I swear it’s not mine, mom. I have no idea how it got under my bed.” We did examine a script from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. Now go a-way or I shall taunt you again!”), and a note from General Washington sent to an aide ordering him to recruit spies on Manhattan Island. I became less anxious. Kara continued to sweat.

Come see Chaos when it opens on Jan. 27. It’ll be a hoot.

Just for the fun of it!

by Dale Ogden, Senior Curator of Cultural History

I’ve dealt with some pretty heavy business in the exhibitions I’ve curated at the Indiana State Museum during the course of my career. Years ago, we produced Indiana at War, which chronicled the state’s involvement in America’s military conflicts. One of my favorites, Objects of Desire: Cars and Clothes of the Jazz Age featured classic Indiana-made automobiles like Duesenberg and Stutz. The sexy cars and slinky clothing, though, were just period props that allowed us to talk about things like Prohibition, racial mixing in jazz clubs and the rise of organized crime. 2010’s With Charity for All, our contribution to the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial observation, involved such lighthearted topics as chronic depression, the loss of a child, the slaughter at Antietam and assassination.

So, every now and again, it’s nice to do an exhibition if for no other reason than just the pure fun of it. Chaos is a Friend of Mine: Cultural Icons from the Jim Irsay Collection would qualify as one of those projects.

From 1979 to 1989, "Tiger" served as the main instrument for the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia. On loan from the collection of James. S. Irsay.

For the uninitiated, Indy will host Super Bowl XLVI in February and everybody in town is looking for a way to get on the bandwagon. Our in is that Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay will host the NFL Owner’s Party at the museum a few days before the big game. I hear it will involve several hundred of Mr. Irsay’s closest friends, an A-list comic as MC, some well-known Baby Boomer rock-n-rollers for entertainment and a smidgen of top-shelf libations.

To our great good fortune, in addition to owning the local NFL franchise, Mr. Irsay is also a collector of international reputation. His prize possession is Jack Kerouac’s 120-foot-long manuscript scroll of the Beat Generation manifesto On the Road. But Irsay’s interests are remarkably … eclectic. In addition to the aforementioned treatise, guitars that belonged to Elvis Presley, Keith Richards, George Harrison and others are among the artifacts he has acquired. Austin Powers’ famed horn-rimmed glasses, a copy of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail script, letters from Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, and a myriad of other treasures are to be found within the Irsay Collection.

We’ll be exhibiting a sampling from this trove from Jan. 27 through May 6. It’s been a fun project to assemble. Any time you have the opportunity to quote Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Frankenstein and George Will in the same text, you’ve got to enjoy yourself. More to come.