Edward S. Curtis Pt. 5 – A History (continued)

A Skokomish camp by Edward S. Curtis. 1912.

A Skokomish camp by Edward S. Curtis. 1912.

Edward S. Curtis had married Clara S. Phillips in 1892 and they had four children together. He was gone for long periods of time working on the book project. Due to his long absences and the financial drain on the business, Clara divorced him in 1916 and gained full custody of their children. He moved into the Rainier Club in Seattle and paid for room and board by taking portraits of its wealthy members. At the time of the divorce many negatives were lost because both Clara and Edward S. Curtis destroyed them rather than see the other person own them.

In the 1920’s Curtis worked briefly in the motion picture business. He worked on Tarzan movies and in 1923 worked on The Ten Commandments with director Cecil B. DeMille. After a few years in the business he went back to working on The North American Indian project, though on a much smaller scale. He took his daughter, Florence, with him into the field.

Though J.P. Morgan and his son, J.P. Morgan, Jr., financed half of the $1.5 million eventual publication costs, Curtis lost money to the point that he borrowed against his own copyrights. He ended up giving the remaining copies to Morgan. The copyrights were sold to the Charles E. Lauriat Company in 1935 for $1,000, plus a percentage of future royalties. A complete set was donated to the University of Oregon and this was Curtis’ own set that he had kept hidden from Morgan.

Duck-skin parkas, Nunivak by Edward S. Curtis. 1928.

Duck-skin parkas, Nunivak by Edward S. Curtis. 1928.

Curtis ended up living the last 30 years of his life near his daughter, Beth Magnuson, in California. She financed a trip for her father so that he could document the Eskimo people. She also paid for an assistant named Stuart Eastwood. Beth went with him on this trip. They hit a bad storm almost immediately and ended up being stuck high and dry on a sandbar for two days. There is film footage showing them stuck on the sandbar.  They went on to Nunivak Island and Curtis was impressed by the people there saying “he never knew a happier and more thoroughly honest and self-reliant people”. He said that he had “found a place where no missionary has worked.” Sadly, about ten years after his arrival, Swedish missionaries established themselves and destroyed much of the culture.

When he returned from his trip to the North, he was arrested for failure to pay alimony to his wife. He had to point out to the judge that he had no money since he had not been paid for the project. Curtis actually wept in front of the court upon disclosing his financial situation. The judge threw the case out.

When the Great Depression hit, there was little interest in an expensive publication such as his. In 1932 Curtis moved to Colorado and had a complete physical breakdown. He spent time with his son doing gold mining. He invented a device to extract gold dust, the Curtis Counter Current Concentrator. Curtis started to write about gold mining.

In 1948 Curtis was contacted by a retired librarian in Seattle named Harriet Leitch. The Seattle Historical Society wanted to know more about a partial set of The North American Indian that had been donated to them. Though there seemed to be little interest from the public about him in his last years, Harriet was able to record much of his life story from their correspondence.

Hupa jumping dance costume by Edward S. Curtis. 1923.

Hupa jumping dance costume by Edward S. Curtis. 1923.

Edward S. Curtis passed away in 1952 and is survived by his grandchild, Gary Curtis, and three great-grandchildren. Gary, age 88, lives on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. He plans to be around for at least three more years so that he can celebrate the 150th anniversary of Edward S. Curtis’ birth in 2018. Representatives from several institutions owning some of Curtis’ work recently met to discuss what they would like to show at the sesquicentennial event.

Photos by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source: http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html

Edward S. Curtis Pt. 4 – A History (continued)

Mosa - Mohave by Edward S. Curtis. 1903.

Mosa – Mohave by Edward S. Curtis. 1903.

Curtis decided to make it his life mission to document the tribes of North America. He thought they were on the point of vanishing. At one point he went to the Smithsonian to ask for financing but they told him, “We have experts here; some have even been to Indian country”. They preferred to work with researchers with credentials from academia. The Smithsonian also told Curtis that the Native Americans had no religion and it is interesting to note that Curtis documented that everything done by the people featured in the books is done to a sacred and spiritual point.

Curtis approached financier and banker J.P Morgan about financing the project but was turned down at first. He pulled out some of his photos and Morgan was so impressed by them that he offered to finance him with an initial investment of $75,000. Morgan was particularly impressed by the photo of a girl entitled Mosa-Mohave.

Awaiting the return of the snake racers by Edward S. Curtis. 1921.

Awaiting the return of the snake racers by Edward S. Curtis. 1921.

Curtis had an eye for excellent composition and he put a lot of time into understanding his subjects. He would wait patiently for facial features to settle and then photograph the “essence of soul”. President Theodore Roosevelt admired Curtis’ work and even hired him to photograph his daughter’s wedding. He also photographed Theodore Roosevelt and one of his friends said of the photograph, “It is more than a picture. It is the man himself.” Roosevelt, who thought of Curtis almost as if he were a member of his family, wrote the foreword for the Curtis books. He encouraged Curtis to pursue The North American Indian project.

Curtis and J. P. Morgan agreed on a plan to produce 20 volumes that would be sold on a subscription basis. Subscribers were forced to buy the entire set at a very high cost so the number of subscribers was limited. The cost was equivalent to the price of a large mansion. Though plans were originally made to print 500 copies, only 272 copies of Edward S. Curtis’s: The North American Indian were printed. In the early years of the project there were many subscribers but those numbers dwindled. The first volume was completed in 1907 and the last was published in 1930. When the stock market crashed in 1929, printing of the volumes was pretty much over.

Curtis felt trapped in a way. He had promised that he would complete the 20-volume set and felt duty-bound to deliver on that promise. Though there were slight changes in the techniques and prints over time, he wanted to be consistent with the appearance of the finished product. People had paid in advance for the volumes and they expected a certain level of quality. Work by other photographers of the times, such as Lewis Hine, focused on harsh realities but Curtis’ kept his original intent, composition, and production techniques. Though aesthetics had changed, The North American Indian did not reflect those changes.

A Blackfoot by Edward S. Curtis. 1926.

A Blackfoot by Edward S. Curtis. 1926.

Curtis’ quest to document the tribes severely impacted his personal life. He worked 15-17 hour days and had two mental breakdowns requiring hospitalization. The “short nights” featured in the title of Timothy Egan’s book refers to the fact the Curtis slept so little. He wrote six to eight letters per night asking for additional funding. Curtis even created a first-of-its-kind multimedia show, The Indian Picture Opera, in order to promote the books. The opera included hand-tinted lantern slides and an original score. Curtis crisscrossed the continent 130 times. At one point in time he worked with his brother, photographer Asahel Curtis, but Asahel was not credited for much of his work. They likely became estranged due to this and other incidents and never spoke to each other again.

Photos by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source: http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html

Edward S. Curtis Pt. 3 – A History

Edward S. Curtis. Self-portrait. Circa 1899.

Edward S. Curtis. Self-portrait. Circa 1899.

Edward S. Curtis was born in Wisconsin in 1868. Two years before he was born, the Indian Wars were taking place. There were 200 battles in an eleven-year period. His father, Reverend Asahel “Johnson” Curtis, served in the military but was injured in the Civil War. He worked as a traveling pastor for a while until his health deteriorated. The Curtis family lived in abject poverty on a farm. Edward and his father moved to the Seattle area in Washington State and built a cabin near Port Orchard. Sadly, the reverend passed away on the day his wife moved there in 1887. These early life experiences affected the work of Edward S. Curtis.

Though Edward only completed sixth grade, his intelligence and drive helped him go on to become famous for documenting Native Americans at a time when many thought they should be eliminated. In the process, he used techniques in photography development and printing that brought his subjects to life. Of the 50,000 negatives that he made, only around 1,000 are known to still exist. He also made 10,000 sound recordings on wax cylinders documenting the language and songs of many of the tribes he encountered. About 800 of the cylinders still exist. His film on the Kwakiutl (now known as Kwakwaka’wakw) was the first to use actual tribal members.

Edward had an early interest in photography and built his own camera from salvaged parts at age 12. Curtis apprenticed with a photographer in Wisconsin when he was 17. When the family moved to Washington State, Curtis came up with $150 to pay for half of a photographic studio business owned by Rasmus Rothi. Six months later, he left that studio and began working with Thomas Guptill in a much larger space. His skill as a photographer, coupled with good looks and a charming personality, helped to make him very well-known and he was often sought out by the rich and famous.

Princess Angeline by Edward S. Curtis. 1899.

Princess Angeline by Edward S. Curtis. 1899.

In 1896 he decided to photograph the daughter of Chief Sealth, known as Princess Angeline, who lived in a small shore side hut on the outskirts of Seattle. She made her living digging clams. Though the city was named after a Native American chief, Native Americans were not allowed within the city limits. Curtis offered to pay her a dollar for each photograph he took of her. This was the equivalent of a week’s wages. He entered three of the photos in a photography contest sponsored by the National Photographic Society. One of the photographs, Homeward, won the exhibition’s grand prize and a gold medal.

Curtis enjoyed mountain climbing and in 1898 happened to be on Mt. Rainier when six people were trapped there by a storm. The group included several influential members of society including George Bird Grinnell, National Audubon Society founder, and Clinton Hart Merriam, head of the U. S. Biological Survey and co-founder of the National Geographic Society. Curtis rescued the lost “tenderfoots.”

Homeward by Edward S. Curtis. 1898.

Homeward by Edward S. Curtis. 1898.

George Bird Grinnell had Curtis appointed as the official photographer of the 1899 E.H. Harriman Expedition to Alaska. The ship had so many experts representing various fields of study that it was essentially a floating university. John Muir, John Burroughs, and Gifford Pinchot were among the passengers.

One of the turning points in Curtis’ life came in 1900 when Grinnell asked Curtis to photograph Blackfoot tribal members in Montana. Grinnell was known as being one of the most knowledgeable authorities on Native Americans in North America at the time. Curtis worked at photographing the Piegan people as they performed the Sundance ceremony. After that trip, he pulled money from the studio in Seattle to finance a trip to see the Hopi tribe. He ended up visiting the Hopi year after year and was eventually adopted by them and allowed to see parts of their snake dance.

Photos by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source: http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html

Glass Butte Dragonglass

 

Dragon Glass collageGame of Thrones fans may know what Dragonglass is but the rest of you may be going, “Huh?” The rock plays an important role in the story.  Most people know it by the name obsidian. Like glass, obsidian fractures into pieces with sharp edges. It can be found in a wide variety of colors.

Obsidian from my yard

Obsidian from my yard

Obsidian forms when lava from a volcano cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth. Volcanic activity in Central Oregon is recent, in geological terms, so obsidian is fairly common in some areas. Lava flows covered hundreds of acres in this region. I have found obsidian in my yard between the sagebrush and bunchgrass. Isn’t this a cool piece?

I’m lucky because I live about an hour away from a place with TONS of obsidian called Glass Butte. When you drive along the dirt roads there, the streets are literally paved in “gold” in the form of obsidian. You are advised to have good tires on your car because that stuff can pop a tire fast.

Glass Butte "gold"

Glass Butte “gold”

Recent research has found obsidian is so sharp it cuts more cleanly than a metal scalpel blade. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/02/health/surgery-scalpels-obsidian/

The varieties of obsidian at Glass Butte can be found in shades of black, silver, gold, mahogany, green, and rainbows of color. The obsidian is solid, striped, spotted, and clear. It sparkles and shines when the smallest ray of sunlight hits it. As you wander in the sagebrush covered hills at Glass Butte, it’s like being a kid in a candy store.

In my guest room I keep a dish full of obsidian where most people might place a bowlful of candy. Guests might be temporarily disappointed until they take a closer look. It is amazing!

Glass Butte candy

Glass Butte candy

People have been collecting obsidian and making arrowheads, spear points, knife blades, and scrapers with it since the Stone Age. Items made from obsidian have been found hundreds of miles away from the source.

Here is a site where you can learn more about obsidian.

http://geology.com/rocks/obsidian.shtml

This site has obsidian for sale but I like going to it to see pictures of the many different varieties. You can also purchase a detailed guide about rockhounding in Oregon here.

http://orerockon.com/ore_rock.htm

 

Edward S. Curtis Pt. 2 – Photo Techniques & Influence of Artistic Movements

Chief – Klamath by Edward S. Curtis. 1923.

Chief – Klamath by Edward S. Curtis. 1923.

The North American Indian books include many photographs and the larger size portfolios contain additional images. The images are never referred to in the text. Curtis would sometimes wait weeks to capture the right image. He was aware of the effect photographing from different angles would have on the subject matter. In some of the pictures he photographed subjects from low camera angles with the camera pointing upwards while in others he focused just below the axis of the eyes. The Old Klamath Woman portrait shows the eyes in sharp focus but the image softens out by the time you get to the cheekbones. As Dawn Boone of A6 observed, the woman pictured is “softening back into the earth right before our eyes.” There is a certain determination expressed in the faces of some of the people even though they had been living against a background of loss.

Curtis’ work was influenced by the Emersonian transcendentalist’s movement. In transcendentalism, the role of nature was considered to be very important. This is evident in the Chief-Klamath image that shows a figure looking out at Crater Lake. He is standing with his back to the camera next to a small stand of trees. His form echoes the shapes of the forest. Another photo, Quiet Waters- Yurock, shows a fisherman on a cliff side blending into the environment and nearly disappearing in the reflection in the water below.

Cañon de Chelly - Navaho by Edward S. Curtis. 1904.

Cañon de Chelly – Navaho by Edward S. Curtis. 1904.

The prints contained in the books are an intersection of photography and engraving. Curtis would frame the shot using a wooden box camera and he would view it through the lens upside down and backwards. The equipment Curtis used was large and heavy. At one point a mule carrying his equipment tumbled off the trail in the Grand Canyon. He spent 12 hours reconstructing his camera. He would usually make a quick cyanotype print to see if he was satisfied with the shot. If satisfied with the initial image, Curtis would then use the photogravure process to make the final print. A glass plate negative was used in the camera. An image would be photographically transferred to a copper plate through the use of a gelatin-coated light-sensitive tissue. The image would be etched into the plate with acid and then prints would be made from that plate. Curtis made some of the prints with a gold tone process in which gold was worked into the glass plates. That was his favorite method but the plates were very fragile. He, like Albert Stieglitz and other Pictorialists, preferred the more artistic photogravure process over other methods available. The influence of the Pictorialists can clearly be seen in Edward S. Curtis’ work.

Albert Stieglitz, a contemporary of Curtis’, was originally from New Jersey but did much of his work in New York City. He married artist Georgia O’Keefe in 1924. His office was close to an office Curtis sometimes used so they likely at least knew of each other.

Andres Cañon by Edward S. Curtis. 1924.

Andres Cañon by Edward S. Curtis. 1924.

As handheld cameras for amateurs became widely available, Stieglitz became determined to prove that photography was as much an art form as painting and sculpture. In 1902 Stieglitz and several other photographers broke away from the Camera Club of New York, where he worked as editor of their Camera Notes publication, to form the Photo-Secession group. Stieglitz often made platinum prints because of the overall feel this process gave to the image. The pictures often included elements from nature seen through a soft haze. Subject matter was often posed in an idealized way as if in a painting. Deep sepia ink tones unified the images. Stieglitz selected specific papers for printing that showed “toothiness.”  The lack of reality in the photographs may have been partly in response to current events such as the world war looming on the horizon. Stieglitz could be very opinionated and overbearing so other Pictorialists started their own groups in pursuit of more artistic freedom. Like Curtis and his work, Stieglitz ran out of money to produce Camera Notes as interest waned and he ended up with an overstock of the publication. By 1917, artists began moving away from the Pictorial movement towards more abstract forms.

Photos by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source:  http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html

Edward S. Curtis “Fever” in Bend, OR

Hupa mother and child by Edward S. Curtis. 1923.

Hupa mother and child by Edward S. Curtis. 1923.

Events and exhibits related to photographer Edward S. Curtis were located all over Bend in the months of September and October. Curtis documented Native American tribes living in many parts of North America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Part of his work was featured in a 20-volume set of books and 20 separate large-format portfolios entitled Edward S. Curtis’s: The North American Indian. An estimated 10,000 people were featured in his work.

The idea for this citywide program began when a number of prints were offered to Atelier 6000 (A6) Studio & Gallery in Bend, OR to exhibit and sell on a commission basis. Three volumes of The North American Indian were donated by former gallery owners Steve and Sandra Miller.

This long article will cover most of the events and exhibits and will help you learn more about Edward S. Curtis. This is Part I and it sets the scene.

Curtis Exhibit at Atelier 6000 Studio and Gallery

Curtis Exhibit at Atelier 6000 Studio and Gallery

Here is what was included in the citywide program:

  • There were 64 Curtis prints featured in the A6 Studio & Gallery. A6 was also given the opportunity to purchase a complete copy of the large-format Portfolio 13 from the Praeger collection. The prints were all for sale. Curated talks about Curtis were given once per week. A6 also offered activities related to the exhibit to the community.
  • A6 sponsored Edward S. Curtis expert Christopher Cardozo who gave a presentation at the Tower Theater that traced the history of Curtis and highlighted some of his work. Cardozo supplied additional prints from his extensive collection as a temporary loan, to be sold on commission.
  • The High Desert Museum (HDM) brought some of Curtis’ work out of their vault to display. The exhibit at HDM was small but powerful. The 20 volumes of The North American Indian were encased in a glass display box flanked by several prints. The books documented his encounters with 80 tribes in words and photographs. One of the books in the display was opened to a touching portrait of a Wishram child.  Visitors may have recognized the portrait of Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé tribe displayed nearby. There were also prints representing the Apsaroke, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, and Piegan tribes in the display.
Chief Joseph-Nez Perce by Edward S. Curtis. 1903.

Chief Joseph-Nez Perce by Edward S. Curtis. 1903.

  • HDM showed the silent film Curtis created in 1914 about Native Americans living on Vancouver Island. It is entitled In the Land of the Head-Hunters.
  • An additional event was added at HDM that related to Curtis’ place in 20th century photography and how contemporary Native American photographers have responded to his photographs. Julia Dolan, Ph.D., Minor White Curator of Photography at Portland Art Museum was the speaker for this event.
  • A documentary film about Curtis, Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian by Anne Makepeace was shown at the Tin Pan Theater and at A6 in Bend and was also shown in Madras.
  • Deschutes Public Library Foundation presented author Timothy Egan in a discussion about his book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher – The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.
  • Deschutes Public Library presented Justine Lowry, part-time Central Oregon Community College faculty for the Department of Fine Arts and Communication, as she explored contemporary responses to the work Curtis created.
  • Elizabeth Woody, member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, read some of her poetry related to her people and the natural world.

What makes Curtis so special that so many events and exhibits related to him took place in Bend? With the advent of the Internet, the images he created seem to appear fairly often but not everyone knows him by name. If you have looked at some of his portraits they have probably brought emotions to the surface that you weren’t expecting. The photos go beyond the usual portraits and capture a time and spirit lost to us now. His use of light, shadow, and composition brings his subjects to life. The expressions in the portraits range from bold and noble to young and vulnerable. Some of the pictures are of a more serious anthropological nature while others are pure art. While he was best known for his portraits, his scenic pictures and still lifes were also remarkable. His work later influenced well-known artists such as filmmaker, John Ford, and photographer, Ansel Adams.

Curtis may be best known as a photographer but he also was an accomplished printer, bookmaker, writer, ethnographer, and cinematographer. He hired writers, editors, anthropologists, translators, and other personnel along the way but always oversaw the work to ensure its quality. In order to cover the many facets of his work, A6 Studio & Gallery enlisted the help of several venues to showcase his work.

Curtis Exhibit at the High Desert Museum

Curtis Exhibit at the High Desert Museum

Photos by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source:  http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html

Swan Song

 

Trumpeter Swan, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

It’s ironic that a bird that almost disappeared from the face of the earth has their name associated with a phrase that means “final appearance.”

At one time the population of the Trumpeter Swan, Cygnus buccinator, was thought to be down to fewer than 70 birds. They were just steps away from their swan song. The birds were overhunted and their feathers were used to adorn hats and make writing quills while their skins were used to make powder puffs.  They were also hunted for their meat and eggs.

In 1932 the last known remnants of the population lived near Yellowstone National Park. Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 to help save the Trumpeter Swan. The Refuge is in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. The photo above is of a Trumpeter Swan I saw last summer in Yellowstone National Park. Threats such as lead poisoning and habitat loss still exist but the current population in North America is over 46,000. See…conservation can be a success!

Trumpeter Swans, Sunriver, Oregon

Here in Central Oregon steps are being taken to ensure their survival. At the Sunriver Nature Center in Sunriver, Oregon, a potential mate for the resident Trumpeter Swan was introduced last summer. After a somewhat rocky start, the pair bonded with each other and it’s hoped they will produce many offspring in the future. There was a story in the Bend Bulletin about the pair and you can read it here: Swans Find Love in Sunriver.

Trumpeter Swans, Sunriver, Oregon

My photos show the pair floating across a duckweed-covered waterway near the Nature Center. You can see the neckband on one of them. If you ever happen to see a banded or tagged swan, as I once did in the Skagit Valley of Washington State, contact the USGS Bird Banding Lab. Here’s a link to a handout from the Trumpeter Swan Society that gives more info on how to report a sighting: Reporting Marked Trumpeter (and Tundra) Swans – Collars, Wing Tags, and Bands.

 

 

Painted Hills – Central Oregon Attraction

Painted Hills, Oregon

It is easy to see why the Painted Hills are designated as one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders. The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is 3,132 acres in size and it is located nine miles northwest of Mitchell, Oregon. If you visit the Painted Hills after rainstorms move through the area, the colors will look more intense from the recent moisture. The colors are striking no matter what season it is. It is like looking at a parfait of luscious layers spread out before you. The deep crimson and black layers at the base of the hills contrast with the sandy browns and golds of upper layers.

The color of the hills is due to volcanic eruptions and changes in climate. Over 35 million years ago this area was part of a river flood plain covered by thick forests of semitropical plants. Abundant ash fall and lava floods helped to shape most of the formations. Erosion started about five million years ago. The area was later subjected to immense forces that tilted the layers downward to the east. Basalt floods hardened and protected softer layers underneath from erosion. Over time the layers of ash and vegetation-rich soil became exposed.

PaintedHills3

The strata in the John Day formations include Big Basin (28-39 million years ago), Turtle Cove (22-28 million years ago), Picture Gorge Ignimbrite (28 million years ago), Haystack Valley (20-22 million years ago), and Picture Gorge Basalts (16 million years ago).

  • The red color bands formed when weather conditions were warmer and wetter. Rainfall during that time period ranged between 31 – 53 inches per year. Ponds and lakes were common in the area.
  • The yellow and tan color bands indicate drier weather conditions. Rainfall was between 23 – 47 inches per year. Today the average rainfall here is 12 inches per year.
  • The black spots indicate manganese concentrations. Plants that fixed the manganese in the soil likely grew in these areas.

For more information, go to http://www.nps.gov/joda/planyourvisit/ptd-hills-unit.htm

There is a link to a map that gives information on several trails in the area ranging from ¼ mile to 1.6 miles in length.

PaintedHills4

The Painted Hills are extremely photogenic so don’t forget a good camera, phone, or other device. You will want to bring back a memory of the surreal landscape.