Vanished Worlds, Enduring People

Illustrated Works

Edward S. Curtis

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) exposed over 40,000 negatives in his attempt to document Native American cultures of the west and northwest, from the Rocky Mountains to the Bering Sea. His stated goal to capture “all features of Indian life and environment” became his life’s work. Curtis published his negatives as exquisite photogravures in The North American Indian, which spanned twenty volumes and twenty portfolios, between 1907 and 1930. Partly funded by J. Pierpont Morgan, his publication received attention from President Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote the introduction. Despite its high-profile backers and luxurious format, The North American Indian did not sell well. Curtis’s peculiar combination of aesthetic sensibilities and ethnographic goals proved troubling to many viewers from the start. Today, his ethnographic work is often disparaged for some of his manipulative practices; Curtis paid for poses, fabricated costumes, intruded on sacred rituals, and sentimentalized his subjects. As a photographer, however, he is much admired for his delicate compositions and eloquent portraits of Native American peoples and homelands.

Edward S. Curtis. “San Ildefonso [New Mexico] Pottery,” from The North American Indian, Vol. XVII, The Tewa. The Zuñi, 1926. Photogravure. [view]

Edward S. Curtis. “Chaíwa. Tewa, Profile,” from The North American Indian, Vol. XII, The Hopi, 1922. Photogravure. [view]

Edward S. Curtis. “Cowichan Girl,” from The North American Indian, Vol. IX: Salishan Tribes of the Coast. The Chimakum and the Quilliute. The Willapa, 1913. Photogravure. [view]

Edward S. Curtis. “The Yuma,” from The North American Indian, Vol. II, The Pima. The Papago. The Qahatika. The Mohave. The Yuma. The Maricopa. The Walapai. The Havasupai. The Apache-Mohave, or Yavapai, 1902. Photogravure. [view]

Edward S. Curtis. “Shot in the Hand. Apsaroke,” from The North American Indian, Vol. IV, The Apsaroke, or Crows. The Hidatsa, 1909. Photogravure. [view]

Edward S. Curtis. “Boys in kaiak. Nunivak,” from The North American Indian, Vol. XX, The Alaskan Eskimo. The Nunivak. The Eskimo of Hooper Bay. The Eskimo of King Island. The Eskimo of Little Diomede Island. The Eskimo of Cape Prince of Wales. The Kotzebue Eskimo. The Noatak. The Kobuk. The Selawik, 1930. Photogravure. [view]

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