If you missed, as I did, the opening of “People of the Plateau: Native American Photography by Edward S. Curtis,” on loan to the Art Association from the University of Wyoming Art Museum, you have through May 25 to see this historic collection of photographs of Native Americans. Curtis’s great work, “The North American Indian,” is 20 volumes in length, with 20 portfolios of over 700 copperplate photogravures. The exhibition is on display upstairs, in the ArtSpace Loft Gallery.
Terry Winchell, owner of Fighting Bear Antiques, opened the show April 10th.
The magnitude of Curtis’ work cannot be overstated. It brings together myriad people and languages. I’m grieved to have missed Winchell’s talk, and in an effort to assuage myself and learn more about Curtis, I did a bit of research. I found a wonderful site, Edward S. Curtis’s “The North American Indian”/Edward S. Curtis in Context.
There you will find five other pages that together provide an excellent context on Curtis: A biographical timeline for Curtis; Curtis and the North American Indian; The Myth of the Vanishing Race; Curtis as Pictorialist and Ethnographic Adventurist; and a map of the North American Indians as experienced by Curtis.
Mick Gidley, Professor of American Literature, School of English, University of Leeds, England’s essay on “The North American Indian” is excellent. Here is an excerpt:
“But when the seeming white brother appeared on the mesas of Arizona in the sixteenth century, the Hopi had been expecting him for hundreds of years. That is, they had an extensive history quite their own, and a corresponding literature. Indeed, all of the Indian peoples–however much the coming of horses and other later imports affected the bases of their cultures–had a history, a religion, a system of government, social customs, handicrafts, and myths and songs of their own which predated the coming of white people among them. Edward Sheriff Curtis’ The North American Indian was a truly magnificent effort to record a vast amount of very many of these aboriginal cultures. Published between 1907 and 1930 in twenty volumes of illustrated text and twenty portfolios containing more than seven hundred large-sized photogravures, The North American Indian, which was issued in a very limited edition and sold rather expensively on a subscription basis, contains millions of words: descriptions of homelands; accounts of religious beliefs that some might find strange; accounts of tribal organizations ranging from the aristocratic to the casually democratic; records of ceremonies so subtle in their significance, or so seemingly bizarre, that an alien eyewitness could easily not understand what it all meant; versions of haunting myths, songs and stories; descriptions of domestic chores and of intricate and skilled arts and hunting practices; and heroic tales of arms and men. In short. The North American Indian is a monument in words and pictures to a range of cultures which most white men could not or would not see.”