Edward Curtis: The North American Indian

The North American Indian ~ An Epic Project

A 20-volume masterwork described as "the most ambitious enterprise in publishing since the production of the King James Bible"

Curtis spent 30 years photo documented tribes throughout North America. What he captured were traditions and a way of life that have all but vanished.

His prints, which capture an amazing way of life, have been digitally restored and are available in several different sizes, mattes and either reclaimed barn wood or natural edge custom frames.

Edward S. Curtis

 

About Curtis: Born in Wisconsin in 1868, Edward Sheriff Curtis took up photography at an early age and was self-taught. By age 17, he was an apprentice at a studio in St. Paul, Minnesota. Curtis move his family west, eventually settling in Seattle.  There, Curtis married and purchased a share in a local photography studio. In 1893 the couple had the first of four children.

1895 Curtis took his first portrait of a Native American—Princess Angeline, the eldest daughter of Chief Seattle of the Duwamish tribe. 1898 Curtis had a chance meeting that set him on the path away from his studio and his family. While photographing Mt. Rainier he met a group of prominent scientists who were lost. The anthropologist George Bird Grinnell, an expert on Native American cultures was among them. The two became fast friends and the relationship led to the young photographer’s appointment as official photographer for the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899. Grinnell later asked him to come on a visit to the Piegan Blackfeet in Montana the following year, Curtis didn’t pass on the opportunity.

On wax cylinders, his crew collected more than 10,000 recordings of songs, music and speech in more than 80 tribes, most with their own language. Curtis was given permission to organize reenactments of battles and traditional ceremonies among the Indians, and he documented them with his hulking 14-inch-by-17-inch view camera, which produced glass-plate negatives that yielded the crisp, detailed and gorgeous gold-tone prints he was noted for.

Edward S Curtis

By 1930, Edward Curtis had published the last of his 20-volume set of The North American Indian. It took Curtis 30 years and more than 40,000 pictures. The personal cost was astounding. Curtis was financially ruined, and he suffered a complete mental and physical breakdown, requiring hospitalization in Colorado. Only 19 complete sets of The North American Indian were sold, along with thousands of prints and copper plates, to Charles Lauriat Books of Boston, Massachusetts for just $1,000 and a percentage of future royalties.

Once Curtis recovered, he tried to write his memoirs, but never saw them published.  He died of a heart attack in California in 1952 at the age of 84. An obituary in the New York Times noted his research “compiling Indian history” under the patronage of J.P. Morgan and closed with the sentence, “Mr. Curtis was also widely known as a photographer.”

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