It was assumed that all of the Edward S. Curtis photogravure copper plates were lost or destroyed. It is a common practice to destroy the plates after the initial printing so no more prints can be made. However, many had been sold to the Charles E. Lauriat Company in Boston. In 1972, decades after Curtis had passed away; they were rediscovered in the Lauriat basement by photographer Karl Kernberger. Nineteen complete bound sets of The North American Indian, thousands of paper prints, the copper plates, unbound pages, and the original glass plate negatives were found. Once this collection was discovered, it passed through several hands. In 2005 the copper plates were purchased by Kenneth Zerbe. New prints have been made from the plates but they are not printed on the high quality Van Gelder paper favored by Curtis.
In recent times, Christopher Cardozo has launched a repatriation project to return some of Curtis’ works to Native American people. Of the people featured in Curtis’ works, we now know the names of 3,500 of them.
Three contemporary Native American photographers, and their responses to Edward S. Curtis’ work, will be the subject of an upcoming exhibit. The exhibit runs from February 6, 2016 to May 8, 2016 at the Portland Art Museum. Photographs from Zig Jackson, Wendy Red Star, and Will Wilson will be featured in the exhibit. Each artist responded in different ways to the Curtis photographs. Zig Jackson noted that people still “take” a photograph of Native Americans. He even pokes a little fun at this concept in one of his pictures entitled Indian Photographing Tourist Photographing Indian. Several volumes of The North American Indian will also be displayed in the upcoming exhibit. Digitized versions of Curtis’ original audio recordings of native language and song will be a part of the exhibit. The Museum is also trying to crowdsource a way for descendants of people featured in The North American Indian to be able to input information about themselves and their ancestors.
Photo by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source: http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html