Self-Portrait of Edward S. Curtis, ca. 1889
Beginning in 1900 and continuing over the next thirty years, Edward Sheriff Curtis took over 40,000 images and documented the disappearing cultural heritage and history of over eighty Native American tribal groups, ranging from the Eskimo or Inuit people of the far north to the Hopi people of the Southwest. He captured the likenesses of many important and well-known people of his time, including Princess Angeline, aka Kickisomlo—the daughter of Chief Sealth of Seattle, Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Red Cloud, Medicine Crow and others. This monumental accomplishment consisted of more than 2,200 photos accompanied by written information.
In 1906, J. P. Morgan provided Curtis with $75,000 to produce a series on The North American Indian. This work was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs. Morgan's funds were to be disbursed over five years and were earmarked to support only fieldvwork for the books—not the writing, editing or production of the volumes. Curtis himself would receive no salary for the project, which was to last more than 20 years. Under the terms of the arrangement, Morgan was to receive 25 sets and 500 original prints as his method of repayment.
222 complete sets were eventually published. Curtis' goal was not simply to photograph, but to document as much about Native American traditional life as possible before their way of life disappeared. In the introduction to his first volume in 1907, he wrote: "The information that is to be gathered ... respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost." Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music. He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes. He recorded tribal lore and history and described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreations, ceremonies and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders and in many cases, his material is the only written records that document their rich history.
This exhibition includes over 25 sepia toned photogravures.
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