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

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