Edward Curtis

I presented the photographer Edward S. Curtis.  Mr. Curtis was born in 1868.  He attended school through the sixth grade due to family obligations on the farm.  At 12 Curtis built his own camera using parts his father brought back to him from the war and the Wilson’s Photographics manual.  His father was a traveling evengelist and took Edward as often as he could on some of these trips.  While on these trips, Edward learned river navigation, basic camping, and other outdoor skills.

In the early 1890’s Edward moved to Seattle where he married, opened two different photography studios and began is family.  In 1896, Edward was 23, he and his partner Thomas Guptill win a bronze medal at National Photographers Convention for their work.  During his time in Seatlle, he became interested in the tribes who lived in the area.  In 1895 he took his first indian photo, the woman he choose was Princess Angeline, the daughter of Chief Seattle.  One of his photos of Princess Angeline, known as the Claim digger won a gold medal for Edward at the National Photographers Convention.

Edward found a lost group of scientists in 1898 while roaming the wilderness for photo opportunities.  Amoung the men were George Bird Grinnell, the editor and Forest & Stream magazine and an expert on native americans.  Grinnell took Curtis on several expeditions into indian country one in particular was to photograhp the Blackfeel Indians in Montana.  While in the Blackfeet camp, Curtis was able to witness the sacred Sundance.  Curtis wrote that while on expedition traveling out of the mountains he saw hundreds of teepees in the valley.  He stated this sight changed his life, it was then he realized he needed to record the North American Indian life before it disappeared.

Over the next 30 years, Curtis would produce 20 leather bound volumes of tribal history and lore, foods, housing, clothing, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs.  He documents approximately 80 tribes making 40,000 images from a 14 x 17″ large view camera and 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of language and music.  The 20 volumes contained 75 hand pressed photographs and 300 pages of text.  The first volume contains a forward written by Presdient Teddy Roosevelt.  The project was partly financied by J.P. Morgan.  Curtis would produce a short film to try to raise more money for the project.  The final two volumes of the series were published in 1930.

I feel somewhat sad that Curtis’s North Amercian Indian didn’t really become popular until the 1970’s when approximately 285,000 originals and the copper plates that produced them.  Check out his work at www.memory.loc.gov

jeaton@dtcc.edu

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