I am always amazed by the beautiful beadwork on display at the High Desert Museum where I volunteer. The carefully crafted pieces represent work by tribes of the Columbia Plateau in parts of modern-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Tribes represented include Umatilla, Wasco, Wishram, Paiute, Washo, Chehalis, Quinault, Nez Perce, Skokomish, Chinook, Tillamook, Yakima, Warm Springs, Haida, Salish, Yaqui, and others.
They are artifacts with an emphasis on “art.” However, Native Americans in the 1700’s and 1800’s did not make art for art’s sake. Beads embellished utilitarian pieces. Beads adorned items ranging from small handbags and knife cases, to deerskin clothing and footwear.
The High Desert Museum houses the Doris Swayze Bounds Collection of Native American Artifacts. Born in 1904 in Oklahoma, Doris Swayze Bounds later lived in Hermiston, Oregon, where she worked as a banker. She always appreciated Native American people and their culture. Many of the pieces in the collection were gifted to her by local Native Americans as a way of showing their respect and affection to her. The artifacts date from the 1870’s to the 1960’s. The collection has many pieces, but I focused on the beadwork in this post.
In the early 1800’s, beads used in trading with native people were referred to as “pony” beads. Transported by pack animals, the beads were limited in availability and colors. The smaller “seed” beads became widely available after about 1850. These inexpensive beads were available in larger quantities and in a wider variety of colors.
White traders thought of the beads as cheap trinkets but to native peoples, they were highly prized. The beads were valued for their beauty and durability. They also freed up time that would have gone into crafting beads from bone, shells, and other materials. The beadwork became a status symbol and a source of pride in their culture.
Bead-working techniques vary and show ethnic membership. Colors and motifs represent different things to different tribes. If symbols are changed, such as being inverted or assembled in incorrect colors, they may show a hidden negative message. For example, an inverted American flag could have expressed displeasure with governmental policies.
The beadwork is this collection is beautiful but some pieces were made during a dark chapter in American history. The hardships native peoples endured are difficult to imagine. Beadwork allowed them to express pride in their culture when they were being forced to give up their traditional ways of life. We are fortunate that some of their remarkable work has been preserved.
To view more of this collection and learn about Native American’s many accomplishments and challenges, visit the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon
Source of beadwork history information:
Logan, M. H. (2014). Brightly Beaded: North American Indian Glass Beadwork [Pamphlet]. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee, McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture.
One Word Photo Challenge – Museum
After living a life full of leaps and bounds, she settled down in her favorite aspen grove. The bunchgrass waved goodbye. The rabbitbrush shaded her in her final moments. The rosebush provided fruit in celebration of her life. And finally, the aspen covered her in leaves of gold.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Story
Silent barks speak with voices needing to be heard.
Unknown worlds are tucked into their cracks and crevices.
Layers peel away to reveal glimpses of their hearts.
Their eyes gaze at us with infinite wisdom.
They sometimes wear disguises to cover up who they are.
But by peeking under silent barks, we learn we are all the same beneath.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Out of This World
On January 20, visitors entered Classroom A at the High Desert Museum to find the room filled with lifelike mounts of raptors. One mount depicted a California quail being chased by a sharp-shinned hawk. Another was of a great horned owl perched on a branch. A golden eagle mount, with outstretched wings, dwarfed the other birds on display. Artist Ian Factor welcomed participants in the workshop and everyone got to work sketching the birds. Curator of Art and Community Engagement Andries Fourie also attended and offered help when needed.
Various art supplies were available for our use. Many attendees brought their own supplies neatly tucked into special cases. Others, like me, had the bare essentials, so we were grateful more were provided.
A variety of reference materials were displayed. There was a collection of bird wings, talons, and skulls. An articulated bird skeleton stood on a tabletop. We learned the basic form of our subjects by looking at mounts prepared by taxidermists. Though not available at this workshop, study skins, or museum mounts, are often utilized for research and artistic purposes. Photographs can help when you’re doing wildlife art and participants were snapping a lot of pictures. Reference materials are helpful in getting the details right and in understanding the underlying anatomy.
This workshop, like most hosted by the Museum, was open to people of all skill levels. Some attending the event were beginners, while others were more advanced. The artists drew the birds with a variety of media. Several sketched in black-and-white with pencils, graphite, or charcoal; other participants added color with pastels and colored pencils.
Drawing from life can be much more challenging. When sketching in a natural setting, you have to work fast to capture the essence of the bird. In this workshop, we sketched a live red-tailed hawk and great horned owl from the Museum’s collection. The hawk was quiet and basically stayed in one position. The owl was vocal and active the whole time. It can frustrate you when your subject doesn’t cooperate, but you have to learn to be flexible.
Participants were told to draw large shapes first then “carve down” to the details. After getting the basics down, Ian Factor advised us to capture the character of the birds. Character in this case is related to their adaptations for a predatory lifestyle and their individual personality. Wildlife Specialist Laura McWhorter provided many interesting life history facts on both of the live bird models provided for this workshop.
Ian pointed out things each participant did well and areas that might need improvements. He was especially helpful to those new to drawing. Participants were enthusiastic about this workshop. In fact, one even asked if we could have this class every weekend.
Do you have any ideas for art workshops at the Museum? If so, please send them to Andries Fourie at email@example.com.
Reprinted from the February 2018 issue of High Desert Voices, a newsletter by and for volunteers working at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. To see issues of the newsletter, click here.
I have posted a couple pictures of bridge art on one side of this bridge in Bend, Oregon. Now it’s time to show the other side. The colorful artwork brightens up these cool cloudy winter days.
Here’s a link to a photo of the artist, Sandy Klein, working on the paintings on the bridge – Bridge of Art.
Here’s a link that shows the completed artwork on the other side – Bridge of Art Update.
I saw this metal sculpture of a stagecoach on a recent trip and wanted to experiment with how to present it. I chose to use a digital version of the autochrome process.
When this process was first presented at the Paris Photo Club by the Lumiére brothers in 1907, it was a turning point in color photography. Other methods existed but this process used a novel ingredient – potato starch. Glass plates were covered with grains of potato starch dyed red, green, and blue. Carbon black and a thin emulsion layer were added and the plate was flipped and exposed to light. The image could be developed into a transparency. To see some of the dreamlike photos created with this process, click here.
The sculpture is on Highway 140, northeast of Lakeview, Oregon. The artwork is near a locked gate with “Crane Creek Ranch” over the entrance.
Here’s what my original image looked like:
Weekly Photo Challenge – Experimental
Yesterday I went to the Festival of Cultures in Redmond, Oregon. I was impressed by a dance group called Titlakawan Aztec Danza. Hope you enjoy the video I shot of them dancing. Even the toddlers and babies participated.
Here’s a blurb about them that was in the program for the World Beat Festival in Salem earlier this year:
“This Aztec dance troupe is based in Salem/Dayton, Oregon. Titlakawan means “We all possess it” or “We all have potential to fully realize ourselves as human beings”. Our troupe promotes through Aztec dance discipline a healthy lifestyle and outlook. The Aztec dance has its roots in central Mexico and has been practiced and protected in the last 400 years. Through immigration, it has set root here in the Northwest for the enjoyment of all those who participate.”
Here are a few pictures of the dancers. I loved the ornate headpieces! They were colorful and dramatic.
This Festival of Cultures had representatives from several countries including Bolivia, China, the Punjab state in India, Japan, and Yemen. This event celebrates the many cultures that live in Oregon and the contributions they have made to our state. There were musical performances, dances, activities, handmade crafts, and foods from several of the cultures. There was also a play area for kids. It was a feast for the senses.
If you’re looking for things to do in Bend this weekend, go see the Art in the High Desert show. This juried arts and crafts show features works in a wide variety of media. Please help support the 115 North American artisans selected for this show by purchasing some of the things they have created. To see a gallery of the work featured this year, click here.
Here is the woodwork of Jack West of Fort Jones, California. These works of art display fine craftsmanship and an eye for bringing out the best in the woods he works with. The carved curving lines on some of his works are unique and they enhance the wood’s natural beauty. You can see more of his work here .
Here is the ceramic work of Gerald Arrington of Sebastopol, California. You may know that I have a thing about rocks and this artist creates realistic-looking rocks out of clay. His pieces are sculptural, stunning, and earthy. You can see more of his work here.
This show is good every year but this year it’s great! If you go to the show, you will understand why it’s in the top ten shows in the nation. The show runs August 25-27 and it’s free to get in. It’s located on the banks of the Deschutes River in Bend at 730 SW Columbia Street.
Last summer I was out for an early morning walk and happened to see an artist at work painting a mural on a bridge. Sandy Klein was painting spring flowers and birds on this bridge of art in the Old Mill district of Bend, Oregon. The beautiful artwork sprinkled throughout Bend accentuates its natural beauty.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Bridge
Can you guess where I was earlier this month? Yes! I was on a 2,754-mile road trip to see parks in Utah and Nevada. We visited five national parks and one state park in Utah and one national park in Nevada.
I love the artwork on these t-shirts. It’s nice to remember a place with a wearable piece of art.
I took a few pictures while on this trip. 1,420 to be exact. Lots of material for future blog posts!
An amazing example of petroglyphs can be seen on the road into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park in Utah. Wow! I have seen petroglyphs before but never so many in one spot. There are more than 650 drawings on a rock wall at this state historical monument. The dark desert varnish provides a nice contrast to the messages carved into the stone.
The first carvings at this site have been determined to be 2,000 years old. People of the Archaic, Anasazi, Fremont, Navajo, Anglo, and Pueblo cultures have carved their messages into the rock over the years. Unfortunately, it looks like some more modern graffiti artists added to parts of the scene.
The meanings of the messages here have been difficult to figure out. Do they tell a story or are they merely scribbles? The Navajo refer to this site as Tse’ Hane – translated as “Rock that tells a story.” It does indeed appear to tell many stories. Only the people who made the carvings know exactly what those stories were.
Sometimes an artist’s greatest wish is that others will be able to see the emotion and spirit of a place in their work. I hope you can feel some of what I was trying to capture in this photo from Yellowstone National Park.
Art is about expressing the true nature of the human spirit in whatever way one wishes to express it. If it is honest, it is beautiful. If it is not honest, it is obvious.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Wish
Here is another great outdoor metal sculpture by local artist Greg Congleton. This sculpture depicts a team of draft horses pulling a log. Thousands of draft horses were imported from Western Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century to help with logging, farming, and moving freight and passengers.
Here is the sign nearby that lists some of the parts used to make this sculpture. Can you find any of them?
Note that this sculpture was donated by Penny and Phil Knight. Phil is the co-founder and chairman emeritus of a company named Nike. Perhaps you have heard of it.
Here is a video of Belgian draft horses at work dragging logs. They are pretty impressive.
Weekly Photo Challenge – A Good Match
Ready to celebrate a new month by looking at some impressive art? If so, you might want to go to Bend, Oregon for the First Friday event. Every month select businesses keep their doors open late in support of the arts. Businesses in the downtown and Old Mill areas host artists while galleries feature the latest exhibits. This month Willow Lane Artist’s Creative Space joined First Friday for the first time.
As you walk around the area, you can stop in to view the art and get free drinks and snacks at the participating businesses. Some also have live music. It’s a popular event so get there early. We went a couple nights ago and the cool temperatures helped make the crowds a little smaller.
You never know what you will find at this event. One summer night we saw a young boy standing on a street corner putting out some amazing music on his fiddle. Just around the corner from him, a craftsman displayed his handmade leather works. Just across the street from them, a couple guys strummed on their guitars as they sang. Many passerbys stopped to admire the work of these artisans.
While on vacation, I picked up a rock and it told me what it was meant to be. A Tyrannosaurus rex of course!
I took it home and got ready to paint. All of the ridges and depressions seemed to be in exactly the right spots. Even the greenish color was right. I darkened a few spots and enhanced others. I added scales with a tiny brush. The crooked grin fit right into the contours of the rock. The nostril and eye placed themselves along a ridge and depression.
Look past external appearances and you may find magic hidden within.
Weekly Photography Challenge – Repurpose
Fossilized teeth that form a shape like a buzzsaw were found in the 1800’s but the type of creature they belonged to was not determined until 2013. A research team consisting of people with backgrounds in art, science, and digital technology solved the mystery. The whorl of teeth belonged to Helicoprion, the buzzsaw shark or whorl toothed shark. This exhibit brings the findings of that research to life through the artwork of Ray Troll and the sculptures of Gary Straub.
A massive sculpture of the huge head of a buzzsaw shark bursts through the wall outside of the exhibit at the High Desert Museum and there are additional sculptures and detailed images inside the gallery. A large sculpture of a buzzsaw shark hangs over your head as you enter the gallery. The walls are covered with murals of waves and members of the shark family. Large colorful paintings show the shark family tree and how buzzsaw sharks swimming in the deep may have looked. Glass cases enclose fossils of the odd-shaped whorl of teeth. Projections of that whorl spin across the floor. Framed drawings of buzzsaw sharks hang on the walls. An interactive model of a buzzsaw shark skull shows the action of those formidable-looking teeth. You can sit on a comfy couch (emblazoned with a whorl pattern) and watch a video about the now-extinct shark.
When I was at the exhibit, I heard a five-year old boy entering the gallery with his family remark, “Wow! Mommy look at that!” Yes, this is a dramatic exhibit that contains a lot of visual interest and fascinating information. The whorl pattern is repeated throughout the exhibit. The artist also had a little fun with the exhibit by hiding several representations of cheeseburgers in the displays. Can you find any of them in the gallery?
At first scientists could not figure out what the creature was that possessed the whorl of teeth or where exactly on the animal they were located. The 2013 research team, Team Helico, used CT scans and 3D digital modeling to figure out that it fit into the lower jaw of an ancient shark. Alaskan artist Ray Troll, has been obsessed with the buzzsaw shark for over 20 years and lent his expertise to the team at Idaho Museum of Natural History. Ray is a well-known natural history artist who has lectured at places such as Harvard and Yale. His work has appeared at the Smithsonian and is featured in the current High Desert Museum exhibit.
As part of their research, Team Helico tried to determine exactly how the buzzsaw shark’s jaw worked. It didn’t slice through the head of the shark because it was blocked by small “stops” on the jaw. The team thought it likely that it ate soft-bodied prey because there wasn’t much tooth wear. It probably grabbed and sliced its prey between its tooth whorl and upper jaw and then swallowed it down its gullet.
As more and more of the distinctive whorl-shaped fossils were found in the early 20th century, scientists delineated many as separate species. Leif Tepanila and Jesse Pruitt, of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, did further analysis on the fossils and figured out there were only three distinct buzzsaw sharks species.
The teeth themselves are unique among sharks. Unlike other sharks, they formed a whorl as they grew and were never shed. A mature shark could have 150 or more teeth. New teeth form in a “tooth pit” in the back of the mouth and push the whorl forward when they erupt. They switch from being baby teeth to adult teeth at around tooth number 85. No one knows why their jaw has this unusual form.
We are always thankful for the work of our staff on setting up exhibits but this particular exhibit was a little different. The artist wanted lots of participation from staff and volunteers on the background work. Images were projected onto the walls and then painstakingly painted by numerous people at the Museum. If you were one of the people who worked on the display, be sure to go into the exhibit to see the final product. The people who participated in this project had a variety of skill levels and some were nervous about doing it “right.” Everyone should be proud of their work because it all came together into a wonderful looking exhibit!
I am reprinting this article I wrote for the October 2016 issue of High Desert Voices, a newsletter for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum. The exhibit will be at the Museum until April 23, 2017. NOTE: This exhibit is no longer at the Museum.
To see a fast-speed video of the installment of this exhibit, go here.
I used a little digital magic to edit this picture into a meme. The picture above is the finished product.
I posted this version several months ago but I thought it needed some more emphasis on the peace sign in the branches so I added a few more.
Here is the original image with no editing.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Magic
Here is a painting of a scrub jay that I worked on this week to help cope with some of my stress. Jays are one of my favorite birds and the most common one in my neighborhood seemed to be the perfect subject. Click here to see another of my jay paintings and to read an entertaining post about jays.
Set along the scenic Deschutes River, the Art in the High Desert event features 110 artists from throughout North America. Based on its sales of fine art, it is ranked number 12 for best fine arts festival in the nation. This is the ninth year of the event. The show features a wide variety of two- and three-dimensional artwork.
My favorite works there this year were created by local artist, Jason Waldron. He makes three-dimensional works created with wood and metal scraps salvaged in Central Oregon. They are large, dramatic, and expressive. Check them out at Waldron 3D.
Harnessing hot air into giant works of art makes for some interesting sights. We went to Balloons Over Bend last weekend for a couple of their events. There were plenty of opportunities for photographs. In these first photos, I decided to focus in on some of the colorful shapes and interesting lines.
We went to the morning launch at sunrise. Temperatures are low in the morning and it is not usually as windy so that’s when many of the flights occur. Flights also occur just prior to sunset.
There is also a nightime event called Nightime Glow. The pilots of the balloons light up the balloons with their propane-fueled burners. It creates some beautiful images.
The balloons did not lift off of the ground but they gave us a great light show. There were hundreds and hundreds of people at this event so if you go, get there early.
This was my favorite balloon. It belongs to Big Sky Balloon Company in central Oregon. The artwork was created by owner Darren Kling, as part of his Artaloft Project.
Hot air balloons fly at 100 to 2,000 feet above the ground with an average cruising altitude of 1,000 feet. They travel with the wind and generally don’t go much faster than 8-10 mph. Balloons carry 1-12 passengers. They are a great way to see the landscape around you from a different perspective.
Look beneath your feet
Notice the textures
Notice the colors blending
Bold and brilliant hues
Bold and distinct edges
Patterns of cracks
Patterns of smoothness
Transitions moving towards new
Transitions moving in a rhythm
Beat into the earth
Beat into your memory
I couldn’t find a clock I really liked so we made one with some leftover scraps of wood. I painted a Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta, on it because it’s our state bird. It’s also the state bird of Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska.
They are a beautiful bird with bold, bright markings. They have a cheery sounding song that always reminds me of the Wild West. Listen to it here. Western Meadowlark song.
Oregon WinterFest celebrates the winter season here in Central Oregon. This is the 17th year of the event. Here are few more photos from the recent event. You can see pictures of some of the ice sculptures above. The bird sculpture was still in the process of being carved.
The Fire King and Ice Queen made their entry on horseback. The queen called herself “Princess Ariel Anna Belle Elsa Cinderella Rapunzel.”
There were booths to get food, beverages, and handmade crafts inside the large tents. There were also quite a few food carts outside.
The Central Oregon Metal Arts Guild had demonstrations and workshops scheduled throughout the event. You could make your own large wall hook for $20.
There were several bands playing at the event. A couple of my favorites were The Company Grand and the B Side Brass Band. The Company Grand is a 10-member band that harkens back to the big band era while throwing in some modern sounds. B Side Brass Band is a New Orleans inspired band with a great sound and a lot of enthusiasm. Both bands are local.
There were many other activities at the event including a high-flying dirt bike show, a flying dog show, a Children’s Area, a Star Wars themed run, and a wine walk. I previously posted pictures of the Fire Pit Competition.
This year the proceeds from admission fees went to Saving Grace, a local organization that provides support services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. If you are thinking about going next year, keep in mind that the money raised goes towards local causes.
Did that get your attention? I went to the Oregon WinterFest event here in Bend this weekend and took some pictures of the Fire Pit Competition that I wanted to share with you. This is the 17th year of the festival so it has a long history in the area. This is the fourth year for the fire pit competition and there are more entries every year.
The dragon and a fire pit with the flag bridge and Deschutes River in the background.
The fire pits came in many shapes and sizes.
This one had an enclosure with mirrors.
This one was like a huge globe.
Flowers of flame and a burning stump.
This one tied everything together into a nice package.
Some were tall and others were closer to the ground.
Visitors were glad to have many places to warm up.
Some of the pieces were very intricate.
Would you prefer steaming hot espresso or a roasted garlic?
This one provided shelter from the breezy conditions on Saturday night.
You could tell that the artists put a lot of heart into their work.
Hope you have a nice Valentines’s Day!
Images by Curtis are still being pushed out into the world. There are many inexpensive prints available. In the last presentation of the Curtis Fever series, Dr. Julia Dolan wondered what Edward S. Curtis would have thought of that. She wondered what the tribes thought about it as well. Though Curtis photographed native peoples because he thought they were vanishing, that idea was wrong since they still exist. An advertisement for a TV show showing a portrait of Curtis on a bed stand was shown. It was from a program called, “The New Normal”. Ironically, it has become the new normal to see pictures of Curtis and the photos he took all over the world thanks to the Internet.
His work has proven a useful record of North American tribal culture, language, and song that many have put to good use. Newer technologies, such as smartphones, have been used by modern day Native Americans to help them learn their language. Photographs by Curtis and his brother have been used by the tribes to identify ancestors and recreate ancient customs.
Dr. Dolan commented about the work of Edward S. Curtis as being “rich and wonderful, but also painful.” We cannot begin to imagine the pain the Native Americans were going through at the time of Curtis’ work. However, we are thankful that his art lives on and that so many of us are able to learn more about him and the people he portrayed.
The events around Bend related to Curtis were well attended. It was difficult to find a parking space nearby! Many people seem to have a deep fascination with his work but also in learning more about him as a person. Author Timothy Egan admitted that when he first considered writing about Curtis that he thought of him as “Indiana Jones with a camera”. He found out that Edward S. Curtis was so much more. Though Curtis had a life of dramatic ups and downs, Egan thought he was able to achieve the goal of helping Native Americans “live forever”.
Photos by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source: http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html
Curtis, E. (Director). (1998). “In the land of the head hunters” film set, 1914 [Motion picture]. University of Manitoba.
Edward S. Curtis: A detailed chronological biography. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.soulcatcherstudio.com/artists/curtis_cron.html
Edward Curtis Shadow Catcher. (2015). Bend, Oregon: Atelier6000.org.
Edward S. Curtis’s: The North American Indian. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html
Egan, T. (2012). Short nights of the Shadow Catcher: The epic life and immortal photographs of Edward Curtis. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pict/hd_pict.htm
History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places | Smithsonian. (n.d.). Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/edward-curtis-epic-project-to-photograph-native-americans-162523282/
Makepeace, A. (Director). (2000). Coming to light [Motion picture]. Anne Makepeace Prod. Orig.-Prod.
Photograph Collector’s Guide – Edward Curtis Photography, Life & Work. (2012, January 5). Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://www.edwardcurtis.com/collectors-guide/
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
In the 2000 film, Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian, many present-day Native Americans were interviewed in regards to Curtis and his work. It has deeply affected modern day tribal members. Some treasure the images and recordings as reminders of their ancestors while others want references to that time to be over. One of the people interviewed about the images remarked that “the world came alive again when viewing them.” During that period in history Native Americans could be thrown in jail for wearing their traditional clothing, speaking their language, and practicing their rituals.
The film points out that the audio recordings that survive preserve the language and songs of the tribes. When Curtis played the recordings back to tribal members right after he recorded them, they were awestruck at hearing the sounds coming out of “the magic box”. Native Americans were forced into giving up their language and assimilating. As one tribal member said in the film, “if you don’t speak, you are lost.”
At first Curtis felt the Native Americans had to assimilate or they would be economically destroyed. As he continued to work on the project, he changed his way of thinking. He became more aware of the fragility of the native people and their way of life. Living in California in his later years, he heard how the Native Americans in that state in particular were mistreated. Some thought that he should have shown the struggle for life many Native Americans were going through but that was not the purpose of his project.
There is controversy surrounding the work of Curtis. Some think the photos were staged and that they degraded and dehumanized the people into mere caricatures. Some think he dressed the people portrayed in a certain way; others say they actually dressed in the clothing they wished to be photographed in. Oftentimes they are portrayed wearing traditional clothing that had been outlawed for them to wear. In Geronimo’s case, he is pictured wrapped in an Army blanket because that is all the white man gave him.
There are inaccuracies in some of his films and still photos. Coming to Light points out that Curtis wanted to film the Navajos doing the Yébîchai ritual – a nine-day ceremony that combines religious and medical observances. It was not the time of year they normally did the dance but they made the masks as Curtis had requested. When they did the dance, they actually performed it backwards. Another instance of inaccuracies is in a photo of Crow warriors. There were no Crow warriors after 1876 and even when they were present, they did not ride horses or go out when there was snow on the ground as the photograph shows.
Curtis is accused of cutting out parts of pictures, such as a small alarm clock between the two people pictured in In a Piegan Lodge, but professional photographers commonly crop parts of their pictures out. An analysis of the photos showed that there was something in the photo that did not seem to belong only 4% of the time. In contrast, 40% of famed anthropologist Franz Boas’ photos contained things inconsistent with the subject matter.
Critics have pointed out the lack of the person’s name in many of the titles on the photographs. Some tribal members were very protective of their names and did not want to disclose them. The absence of names was done out of respect for the people photographed. Other tribes Curtis photographed, such as the Apsaroke, were less sensitive about their name being in the title. Curtis paid all of his subjects and offered them a cyanotype print of the photos. It was a collaborative, creative effort.
Some have questioned why he did not focus on how poorly the tribes were being treated. He maintained that that was not the goal of this project but he did seem to take up their cause very late in his career. In 1923 he helped found the Indian Welfare League. This group of artists, museum curators, and lawyers formed to help find work and legal services for the tribes. They also became involved in getting citizenship for Native Americans. Curtis, however, was of two minds on this topic – he scorned Washington experts but also scolded the native people about not pitying themselves too much.
Photos by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source: http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html
In 1914, Curtis’ film In the Land of the Head-Hunters, featuring the Kwakiutl tribe, was shown to theater audiences. He worked on the film with George Hunt who had been adopted by the tribe. Hunt had been indispensable when he had worked for anthropologist Franz Boaz. The Kwakiutl tribe is from Vancouver Island and they rely on salmon fishing for their way of life. However, Curtis had them pretend to hunt whale in the film. Creating the film had its hardships including an incident when Curtis was dropped off on an “island” that flooded with the incoming tides and left him waist-deep in water through the night.
The film shows a potlatch ceremony because Curtis thought filming it would be very dramatic. The Kwakiutl culture carved elaborate totem poles, canoes, and longhouse buildings. Tribal members wore full-body ceremonial garb made from wood, feathers, and skins that represented animals.
In the Land of the Head-Hunters is said to be the first ethnographic film. Nanook of the North came out later and the creator of that film analyzed Curtis’ work frame by frame before he started filming. Edward S. Curtis’ film consisted of 8,000 feet of film. It was the first film to feature a cast of Native Americans – instead of Italians dressed up in makeup and costumes. It was shot entirely on location and was the first film created in British Columbia. The musical score was composed by John J. Braham, who also did the score for Hiawatha. The film flew in the face of stereotypes people had at the time about Native Americans. Unlike other films that included Native Americans in the plot, this film did not focus on conflicts with whites.
The Kwakiutl tribe enjoyed being a part of the Curtis film. They made everything for the film – including buildings, canoes, and costumes. The tribe gave input into what should be included in the final film and what should be excluded. The story was meant to be a mythic tale about Native Americans before they came in contact with Europeans. It was almost like something out of Greek mythology. The potlatch and other ceremonies were banned in Canada in 1913 and enforcing those laws was at its peak when filming took place.
One of the reasons Curtis created the film was to help pay for the book project. At the time he was working on the film, he was compiling Volume 10. Edward S. Curtis had been interested in filmmaking as early as 1906. In the Land of the Head-Hunters cost $75,000 to $100,000 to make but it was a complete bust financially. It came out right as World War I was starting. There was a dispute with the distributor and it went to court but was never resolved. Curtis ended up selling the film for only $1,500.
The finished film consisted of six reels of film and Curtis said that he had given a copy to the Museum of Natural History. The Museum had no record of the film being donated. Three badly damaged reels were found in a dumpster in 1947. UCLA had another partial copy. The film was painstakingly recreated but approximately one third of the original film was lost. The Getty Research Institute had incorrectly linked the musical score with another film but it was eventually reunited with the Curtis film.
Milestone Films produced a deluxe edition of the restored film in 2014, 100 years after the original film was created. It can be purchased from their website. This movie can be rented or purchased through Amazon Video and iTunes.
Photos by Edward S. Curtis in this article are from the following source: http://curtis.library.northwestern.edu/index.html
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.