Native American Women, Their Art, and the Photographs of Edward S. Curtis Exhibit

Mother and child - Apsaroka by Edward S. Curtis

Mother and child – Apsaroka by Edward S. Curtis

The Photographs of Edward S. Curtis in the By Her Hand Exhibit

This exhibition features portraits of Native women by photographer Edward S. Curtis from the collection of Christopher G. Cardozo. Curtis took the featured photographs over a 30-year period as part of a project to document Native American’s lifestyle and culture in a time of change. Curtis traveled across North America from 1900 to 1930 photographing over 80 tribes.

By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos , High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon October 2018

By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos, High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon

Edward S. Curtis worked out of a studio in Seattle, Washington and received financial support from J. P. Morgan. Curtis collected information about the lives of each tribe through photographs, writings, and audio recordings. With the help of Native translators, he assembled a 20-volume set titled The North American Indian. Curtis intended to publish 500 copies but due to a series of financial and personal setbacks, only about 272 were printed. Ninety percent of the original sets are owned by institutions, including the High Desert Museum.

Hupa Female Shaman by Edward S. Curtis

Hupa Female Shaman – by Edward S. Curtis

The portraits in this exhibit have a beautiful yet haunting quality to them. The labor-intensive photogravure process Curtis used allowed him to create subtle variations in tone and focus. Curtis insisted on using only the highest quality materials and he experimented with a variety of techniques. In 2015 there was a city-wide celebration of Curtis’ work in Bend. Dawn Boone, of the A6 studio, gave a lecture on the photographs. She made an observation that one of the women portrayed seemed to be “softening back into the earth right before our eyes.”

On the Beach - Chinook by Edward S. Curtis

On the Beach – Chinook by Edward S. Curtis

Native American author Louise Erdrich has an interesting perspective on the women represented in Edward S. Curtis’ photographs. She said, “Women’s work is celebrated in Curtis’ photographs–women grind corn, bake bread, make clay vessels, doctor each other, pick berries, haul wood and water, gather reeds, dig clams. These images of women working are among my favorites, for they are more practical then elegiac, yet entirely harmonious, and they are often the most sensual of Curtis’ works.”

By Her Hand 8

While Curtis’ ambitious project documented the tribes, it was not without controversy. He often staged portraits. Sometimes he mixed up artifacts and traditions between tribes. He referred to Native Americans as a “vanishing race.” Native peoples were losing their rights and their lands but many did successfully adapt to Western society.

By Her Hand 6.jpg

There was a revival of interest in Curtis’ work beginning in the 1970s.  He was an exceptional photographer, and he documented many facets of Native American life that no longer exist. Museums across the country feature major exhibitions of his work. Original printings of The North American Indian bring extraordinary prices at auction.

Historical and Contemporary Art from the Museum’s Collection

This new exhibit also includes basketry, beadwork, and leatherwork created by Native Americans of the Columbia Plateau. Intricate beadwork adorns bags, a cradleboard, and clothing. There are examples of different styles of basketry in this exhibit. Featured contemporary Native artists include Pat Courtney Gold, Roberta Kirk, and Kelli Palmer. Kelli Palmer often designs baskets based on photographs from the past—including those of Edward S. Curtis.

By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos, baskets, and beadwork, High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon 

By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos, baskets, and beadwork, High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon

Native American cultures passed techniques for creating basketry and beadwork down through generations. Many items were utilitarian, but the makers included symbols and patterns in artistic ways. Contemporary artists may include materials such as commercial string and yarn in traditional and newly created patterns.

By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos, baskets, and beadwork, High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon 

By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos, baskets, and beadwork, High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon

In the early 20th century, Native people were forced to live on reservations. Many lost their language, ways of life, and skills such as basket making. Children were sent to boarding schools and weren’t allowed to learn things associated with their cultural identity. Columbia Plateau people have been working to bring back the knowledge of cultural traditions. As new generations learn the traditions and art forms of their ancestors, they will ensure the culture portrayed in Curtis’ photographs survives. Pat Courtney Gold notes that basket making is not only artistic; it is an expression of and central to the revitalization of her culture.

By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos, baskets, and beadwork, High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon 

By Her Hand Exhibit of Edward S. Curtis Photos, baskets, and beadwork, High Desert Museum, Bend, Oregon

This exhibit will be on display at the High Desert Museum through January 20, 2019. For more about Edward S. Curtis, see a series of articles I wrote here.

Close ups of images are from this source:

Northwestern University Library, Edward S. Curtis’s “The North American Indian,” 2003.
http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/site_curtis/

This is a reprint of a November 2018 article in High Desert Voices, a newsletter by and for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. To see more issues of the newsletter, go here.

 

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed: LAPC

In Yellowstone National Park, much of the wildlife is hidden from view. You have to look carefully to find the animals and sometimes they will reveal themselves to you.

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed, Elk in the Lamar Valley 1June2018Elk in the Lamar Valley are hidden as they blend into the landscape traveling along a ridge top.

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed Elk 1June2018However, when they cross a pond they are revealed. The splashing water draws your attention and their pale colored rumps make you take notice of them.

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed, Sandhill cranes 1June2018From a distance, this just looks like two lumps in a field. Sandhill cranes’ plumage helps them stay hidden from view.

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed, Sandhill cranes 1June2018However, when they raise their head and you see their distinctive silhouette and red cap, they are revealed.

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed Pronghorns 1June2018Pronghorn have bars of white on their coats that somehow help them stay hidden from view. These two does are wandering near the river’s edge.

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed Pronghorns 1June2018However, when you see them close up, their markings are clearly revealed.

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed Grizzly bear 1June2018Sometimes all you see are tiny specks in the distance. You try to zoom in as close as you can with your lens but they still remain hidden. The white arrow in this fuzzy photo is pointing at two grizzly bears hundreds of yards away.

Yellowstone Hidden & Revealed Grizzly Bear 1June2018However, these magnificent creatures are revealed when you visit a place that helps conserve them. This image was taken at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. I don’t think I would want to be that close to a grizzly on a trail so I will settle for this view.  😉

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge – Blending In – Or Standing Out?