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.

 

Princess Angeline – Pacific Northwest Royalty

Princess Angeline by Edward S. Curtis. 1899.

Princess Angeline by Edward S. Curtis. 1899. Northwestern University Collection.

Did you know that a princess is buried at Lake View Cemetery in Seattle?  I bet many people don’t even know who she was. The woman known as “Princess Angeline” was the daughter of Chief Sealth, aka Chief Seattle or Chief Si’ahl. Born in the early 1800’s, she passed away on May 31, 1896.

I posted a nine-part essay on photographer Edward S. Curtis last year and in Part 3, recalled the importance of Princess Angeline to Curtis’ future career. She was the first Native American that he photographed. He entered several pictures of tribal members in a National Photographic Society contest. One won the grand prize and a gold medal.

Princess Angeline's gravestone with Yesler memorial in the background 8July2016

Princess Angeline’s gravestone with Yesler memorial in the background

I recently attended the funeral of a close relative at Lake View Cemetery and found Princess Angeline’s gravestone nearby. Her rough granite gravestone is next to the much grander towering tombstone of Seattle pioneer, Henry L. Yesler. Princess Angeline requested that she be buried close to Yesler since she considered him to be a friend and protector.

There was a magnificent funeral for her in 1896 at Seattle’s Church of Our Lady of Good Help. She was buried in a canoe-shaped coffin. I  learned that school children in Seattle had raised the money to purchase her gravestone many years after her funeral.

The inscription on her gravestone piqued my curiosity. It said that she “was a life long supporter of the white settlers” and that she had been converted to Christianity and was named by Mrs. D. S. Maynard. The inscription also stated she had befriended pioneers “during the Indian attack upon Seattle on January 26, 1856.”

Chief Sealth’s first wife, Lalaida, gave birth to daughters Princess Angeline and Mary. Sealth fathered five additional children. Princess Angeline’s Lushootseed name at birth was Kikisoblu.

Chief Sealth. 1864. Photograph by E. M. Sammis. HistoryLink.org.

Chief Sealth, 1864. Photograph by E. M. Sammis. Photo courtesy of University of Washington Library Special Collection.

Her father, who would grow up to become Chief Sealth, was a young child when Captain George Vancouver anchored his ship in Puget Sound in 1792. The captain was not impressed with what he saw of the indigenous people. He described their village as the “most lowly and meanest of its kind.”

Sealth grew up to be respected among his people for his skills as a warrior, orator, and diplomat. He encouraged the construction of a trading post by the Denny-Boren party, who arrived in the area in 1851. Though that post failed, it set the stage for a trading post later established by Doc Maynard. In 1852, Maynard arrived in a canoe paddled by Chief Sealth and other Duwamish tribal members. Chief Sealth befriended many settlers and the city was named “Seattle” in his honor.

As more settlers moved into the area, conflicts grew between them and the native peoples. In 1854, Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens (who thought the only good Indian was a dead Indian) visited Seattle.  Chief Sealth made an eloquent speech in which he despaired that the day of the Indian had passed and that the future belonged to white man. This oft-quoted speech was likely embellished by journalists of the time. It has undergone several revisions  but its underlying message still rings true. The chief signed the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855. The Suquamish people were forced to relocate to a reservation across Puget Sound from their tribal lands. Princess Angeline chose to stay in the Seattle area. Princess Angeline, her father, and Curly or Curly Jim are attributed (depending upon the source) with warning the settlers about the approach of hostile natives in the Battle of Seattle. The battle took place on January 26, 1856.

Princess Angeline, daughter of Chief Seattle at home in 1890, photo courtesy University of Washington Library.

Princess Angeline, daughter of Chief Seattle, at home in 1890. Photo courtesy of University of Washington Library Special Collections.

Native Americans were not supposed to live within the city limits but Princess Angeline, then in her mid-30’s, lived in a small shack on Western Avenue between Pike and Pine streets. Her friend Catherine Maynard, wife of Doc Maynard, thought she deserved a name that would help people recognize her importance as the daughter of the city’s namesake. She named her Princess Angeline– a name she thought was “prettier” than her native name.

As Angeline entered old age, she had offers of help but preferred to continue living on her own in the waterfront shack. She often collected shellfish along the shores of Puget Sound. Angeline did laundry for settlers, made baskets and native handicrafts, and posed for pictures to supplement her income. In her elder years her visage, dressed in a red bandanna, shawl, and several layers of clothes, became iconic of Native Americans of the time.

Princess Angeline's gravestone 8July2016

Princess Angeline’s gravestone

She was often hounded by young boys who followed her and harassed her. She would throw rocks at them to keep them away. Perhaps that’s why there is a collection of stones in front of her gravestone today.

As reported on the  Weird U.S. site, some believe they still see her ghost at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. It is close to where her shack once stood. According to the author, people have seen an old Native American woman quietly sitting on the ground surrounded by several baskets. Others claimed to have seen her near the flower market. Still others report seeing an old woman hobbling into a seat on ferry boats crossing Puget Sound only to vanish before the ship docks. I will leave it up to you to decide if these apparitions exist but Princess Angeline did make a lasting impression on those who came into contact with her.

Interesting fact: My relative, who was recently laid to rest at Lake View Cemetery, happened to have lived in the house that was built for the granddaughter of Seattle founder, Arthur Denny. Her father, Rolland Denny, had a house close by. Princess Angeline’s father, Chief Sealth, had helped Arthur Denny settle in the Seattle area.

Sources:

By Walt Crowley and David Wilma. “HistoryLink.org.” Native Americans Attack Seattle on January 26, 1856. –. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2016.
Crowley, By Walt. “HistoryLink.org.” Denny, Boren, and Bell Select Claims on Elliott Bay Marking the Beginning of Seattle on February 15, 1852. –. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2016.
@HistoryNet. “Chief Seattle | HistoryNet.” HistoryNet. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2016.
Tribe, Duwamish. “Duwamish Tribe.” Duwamish Tribe. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2016.
“Weird Washington.” Weird Washington. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Sept. 2016.

 

Edward S. Curtis Pt. 9 – Conclusions

Chief and his staff - Apsaroke by Edward S. Curtis. 1905.

Chief and his staff – Apsaroke by Edward S. Curtis. 1905.

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.

A Taos girl by Edward S. Curtis. 1905.

A Taos girl by Edward S. Curtis. 1905.

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.

A Family Group - Noatak by Edward S. Curtis.

A Family Group – Noatak by Edward S. Curtis. 1929.

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.

Audience viewing In the Land of the Head-Hunters at the High Desert Museum

Audience viewing In the Land of the Head-Hunters at the High Desert Museum

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”.

 

Kutenai woman by Edward S. Curtis. 1910.

Kutenai woman by Edward S. Curtis. 1910.

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

Sources:

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/

 

Edward S. Curtis Pt. 8 – Recent History & Upcoming Events

Aged Pomo woman by Edward S. Curtis. 1924.

Aged Pomo woman by Edward S. Curtis. 1924.

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

Edward S. Curtis Pt. 7 – Documentary and Controversy Related to His Work

In a Piegan lodge by Edward S. Curtis. 1910.

In a Piegan lodge by Edward S. Curtis. 1910.

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.

Modern dance costume - Pawnee  by Edward S. Curtis. 1927.

Modern dance costume – Pawnee by Edward S. Curtis. 1927.

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.

Yebichai Hogan - Navaho by Edward S. Curtis. 1904.

Yebichai Hogan – Navaho by Edward S. Curtis. 1904.

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.

Apache girl by Edward S. Curtis. 1906.

Apache girl by Edward S. Curtis. 1906.

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.

This movie can be purchased or rented through Makepeace Productions , Amazon Video , or iTunes.

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

Edward S. Curtis’ Film Pt. 6 – In the Land of the Head-Hunters

A Koskimo House by Edward S. Curtis. 1914.

A Koskimo House by Edward S. Curtis. 1914.

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.

Group of winter dancers – Qagyuhl by Edward S. Curtis. 1914.

Group of winter dancers – Qagyuhl by Edward S. Curtis. 1914.

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.

Wedding party - Qagyuhl by Edward S. Curtis. 1914.

Wedding party – Qagyuhl by Edward S. Curtis. 1914.

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 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

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