Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1868-02-16
Death 1952-10-19
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

American photographer and ethnologist.

From the description of Edward Curtis papers, ca. 1900-ca. 1935. (Getty Research Institute). WorldCat record id: 80251387

Curtis was a still photographer and a movie camera operator on Cecil B. DeMille's The ten commandments (1923).

From the description of Photographs of the filming of Cecil B. DeMille's The ten commandments by Edward S. Curtis [graphic]. [1923] (California Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 79448890

Edward Sheriff Curtis was born near Whitewater, WI, in 1868 and grew up in Seattle, WA. Fascinated with the Indians and their way of life he embarked on lifelong career dedicated to presenting "the very spirit of the Indian peoples" in photographs, film, recordings and print. George Bird Grinnell, an authority on Indians, appointed him Official Photographer to the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899. Curtis' dream of a comprehensive written and photographic record of the Indians resulted in a twenty volume, illustrated text and twenty portfolios of large-sized photographs. Before his work received financial backing by J. Pierpont Morgan, and the endorsement of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, he gave lecture tours and sold subscriptions to the limited edition of his work to raise funding. By the time the work was finished, both his health and marriage were broken. In his later years, he moved to Los Angeles and opened a studio with his daughter, Bess Magnuson. He died Oct. 20, 1952, of a heart attack at age 84. In his lifetime he produced 10,000 recordings, 40,000 photographs, twenty volumes of text, a full-length motion picture with Kwakiutl people in 1914, and several books of Indian stories. The New York Times obituary described him as an authority on the North American Indian. [Source: Historical Collections master file, article w/o citation; PBS American Masters series web site: www.thirteen.org/americanmasters/curtis/ Accessed 3 March 2004.].

From the description of Edward Sheriff Curtis photograph collection [graphic] ca. 1907-1930. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 54524424

"Mr. Curtis, in making his monumental collection of Indian pictures, has attempted to visit and picture all important tribes of the United States, British Columbia and Alaska. The basic purpose of this collection of pictures is their use as illustrations for the "North American Indian," a work of twenty volumes and twenty supplementary portfolios of pictures. The task of making these pictures has been under way for thirty years. This subject is selected from the great collection made as a permanent record of the North American Indian. The Edward S. Curtis Studios, Inc., Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles"--A picture label attached to "Before the Storm."

From the description of North American Indian, by Edward S. Curtis : portfolio of photographs by Edward S. Curtis, 1907-1930. (The Heard Museum Library). WorldCat record id: 56970826

Edward S. Curtis was a prolific photographer of Native American tribes throughout North America.

From the description of Edward S. Curtis collection [photographs] 1900-1921. (Nogales-Santa Cruz County Public Library). WorldCat record id: 32444546

"Mr. Curtis, in making his monumental collection of Indian pictures, has attempted to visit and picture all important tribes of the United States, British Columbia and Alaska. The basic purpose of this collection of pictures is their use as illustrations for the 'North American Indian, ' a work of twenty volumes and twenty supplementary portfolios of pictures. The task of making these pictures has been under way for thirty years. This subject is selected from the great collection made as a permanent record of the North American Indian. The Edward S. Curtis Studios, Inc., Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles"--A picture label attached to "Before the Storm."

From the description of Native American portraits : photographic prints, ca. 1910 / by Edward S. Curtis. (The Heard Museum Library). WorldCat record id: 56402283

American photographer and author, whose masterwork "The North American Indian" published 1907-1930.

From the description of Papers, 1909-1932. (Denver Public Library). WorldCat record id: 14233350

Edward S. Curtis was a photographer of the American West and of Native American peoples.

From the description of The Vanishing Race, 1907. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 367960251

Edward Sheriff Curtis was a photographer of the American West and of Native American peoples. Curtis' goal was not just to photograph, but to document, as much Native American traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared. 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 he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only recorded history. Much of the material and information he collected was made into a book, The North American Indian, and in 1935 the rights and remaining unpublished material were sold by the Morgan estate to the Charles E. Lauriat Company in Boston for $1,000 plus a percentage of any future royalties. This included 19 complete bound sets of The North American Indian, thousands of individual paper prints, the copper printing plates, the unbound printed pages, and the original glass-plate negatives. Lauriat bound the remaining loose printed pages and sold them with the completed sets. The remaining material remained untouched in the Lauriat basement in Boston until they were rediscovered in 1972. Curtis died on October 19th, 1952 at the age of 84 of a heart attack in Whittier California.

From the description of Edward Sheriff Curtis photograph collection, 1906-1930. (Southern Illinois University). WorldCat record id: 319868571

Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) was born near Whitewater, Wisconsin. In 1874, the Curtis family relocated from Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Edward Curtis embarked on his long career as a photographer when he built his first camera. In 1885, he began to apprentice with a local photographer. Two years later, the family again relocated, this time to Seattle, Washington. There, Curtis began investing and working as a partner in a series of photography studios.

In 1892, Curtis married Clara Phillips, and couple would go on to have four children. They lived in a household that included much of Curtis’ extended family, including his brother, noted Pacific Northwest photographer Asahel Curtis. The family remained in Seattle, and it was during this period that Curtis began to distinguish himself as a photographer of Native American people.

In 1906, Curtis was offered $75,000 by J.P. Morgan to create what would be his seminal work, The North American Indian. The piece included 1,500 images, was 20 volumes in length, and aimed to document Native American life before it “disappeared.” He conducted extensive research with over 80 tribes, and produced over 40,000 photographic images and over 10,000 recordings.

In 1919, Curtis and his wife divorced, and she was awarded his studio and all of his photographic negatives. Curtis and his daughter went to the studio and destroyed all original glass plate negatives. Following the end of his marriage, Curtis and his daughter, Beth, relocated to Hollywood, where he continued to work in photography. For a period of time, he worked as an assistant to Cecil B. DeMille. In 1927, Curtis returned to Seattle, and completed the final volume for The North American Indian. He sold the rights to the work to J.P. Morgan’s son in 1930, and five years later, it was sold to the Charles E. Lauriat Company of Boston.

Curtis passed away at the age of 84 in Whittier, California, at the home of his daughter. Today, his work is the subject of much controversy in terms of its authenticity and historical accuracy. Regardless, anthropologists consider his contributions to be significant.

Charlotte Bowditch of Santa Barbara, California, has a great deal less biographical information. Her relationship to Edward Curtis appears to have been based on common Native American interests. Curtis was, on several occasions, commissioned to purchase a variety of goods such as baskets (1908), a hat (1913), and a variety of other objects.

From the guide to the Edward Curtis collection, 1907-1913, (The Museum of Northern Arizona)

Edward Sheriff Curtis was born near White Water Wisconsin in 1868. He was a self-taught photographer and built his first camera when still a child. For several years he worked as an assistant to a commercial photographer in Minnesota. In 1887, he moved with his family to Seattle, Washington where he owned part interest in a photographic studio. During this time, he was heavily influenced by George Bird Grinnell, who was an expert on Native Americans and played a major role in giving young Curtis' photographic enthusiasm direction and scope. As a result of Grinnell's influence, he turned his attention to Native American subjects. Curtis photographed his first Native American in 1896 and, as a result of his subsequent Native American photographs, was commissioned to Edward H. Harriman's two month expedition to Alaska in 1899.

In 1900, Curtis began an extensive photographic documentation of Native American tribes from the United States. His work carried him all over the American West and resulted in his first trip to the Hopi Mesas in 1900. Curtis' talent and topic caught the interest of many Americans including Theodore Roosevelt and J.P. Morgan. Morgan was so impressed that he advanced Curtis $75,000 in 1905 to complete and publish the results of Curtis' Native American studies. In 1930, he completed his Native America n study and published a twenty- volume illustrated encyclopedia of North American Indian life, containing over 1,500 photographic images.

Curtis employed a variety of techniques, but he is best known for his high quality photogravure photographs. Although his style was uncomplicated, he tended to romanticize his subjects by posing them with various props, including wigs.

In addition to his twenty volume set, The North American Indians, Curtis' photographs appear in many other publications. Curtis also wrote books based on his knowledge of Native Americans such as, In the Land of the Head Hunters, and Indian Days of Long Ago. Curtis died on October 21, 1954 in Los Angeles, California.

From the guide to the Edward S. Curtis Collection, 1900-1921, (Cline Library. Special Collections and Archives Department)

Edward Sheriff Curtis was born in 1868, grew up in Minnesota, and moved to the Puget Sound area with his family in 1887. In 1891 he established a photography business in Seattle. Within a few years, Curtis and his partner, Thomas Guptill, established themselves as the leading photographers on Puget Sound. In 1897 Guptill left the business, and its name was changed to Edward S. Curtis, Photographer and Photoengraver. In addition to photoengraving for other businesses and publications, Curtis's stock in trade consisted of fashionable wedding portraits, society portraits, dramatic prints of Northwest scenery, and photographs of local Indians. As his business prospered, Curtis was able to leave the studio in the charge of others so that he could photograph subjects which interested him.

In 1899 Curtis was chosen as the official photographer for the Harriman expedition, a scientific expedition to Alaska sponsored by railroad tycoon Edward Harriman. The expedition stimulated Curtis's interest in photographing Native Americans, exposed him to scientific methods, and provided him with a number of useful contacts. In the next several years, he continued his studio work as well as his Indian work, but from 1904 on, he spent most of his time away from Seattle. By 1903 or 1904 he began to form a plan for a photographic project that would be "a permanent record of all the important tribes of the U.S. that still retain to a considerable degree their primitive traditions and customs." Reflecting a general belief that Native Americans were a vanishing culture, Curtis embarked on a monumental project that was both artistic and ethnological. His Indian photographs emphasized traditional elements of dress and culture, deemphasizing acculturation. In this he mirrored the interests of ethnologists of the day.

Curtis's project benefited from broad public interest in the West. In 1904 Curtis went to the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology and discussed his plans for a multi-volume collection of photos of Indians. Frederick Webb Hodge, a leader of the Ethnology Bureau, agreed to edit Curtis's collection, The North American Indian . In 1904 Curtis also met Theodore Roosevelt, who became an enthusiastic supporter of the project. Curtis organized an Eastern tour in 1905; his exhibitions in Washington and New York resulted in sales of his pictures, patronage for his fieldwork, and a commission from Scribners magazine for four illustrated articles. In 1906 Curtis sought financial support from J. P. Morgan, who initially agreed to give Curtis $15,000 a year for five years to research, write, and publish 20 volumes of The North American Indian . Each volume included ethnological text illustrated with 75 small photogravure prints, plus a companion portfolio of 36 copper photogravure plates. The volumes were printed on handmade paper with fine engravings and bound in Moroccan leather. The first two volumes were published in Apr., 1908, but the project was not completed until 1930, when volumes 19 and 20 were released. By this time, Morgan and the Morgan estate had contributed half of the project's total cost of $1,500,000.

Curtis concentrated his study on the tribes west of the Mississippi, from New Mexico to Alaska. He began his work in the Southwest in 1904 and made his last field trip, to Alaska, in 1927. He studied over eighty tribes and took 40,000 photographs. He attempted to participate as much as possible in the daily and ceremonial life of each tribe. Although not academically trained, Curtis and his assistants conducted extensive fieldwork. With his assistant, William Myers, Curtis recorded many songs (now in the University of Indiana archives) and amassed information on Indian life. Myers did most of the writing for North American Indian after the first two volumes.

The project suffered a number of delays and temporary setbacks. By 1907 Curtis's reputation had grown and his photographs enjoyed popular success, but he was continually short of funds to cover the cost of the project. He spent the warmer months of each year in the field, photographing and conducting research with his crew, and the rest of the year raising money or promoting the project. There was a six-year lapse between the publication of volumes 11 and 12 due to delays caused by World War I. After the war public interest in Curtis's work had waned and he gave up trying to make advance subscription sales of future volumes. In 1917, after a divorce and a loss of the Seattle studio, Curtis moved to Los Angeles and set up a new studio there. In addition to his studio work and efforts finishing up The North American Indian, Curtis pursued an interest in mining and occasionally took jobs as a cameraman on early Hollywood movies. He died on October 21, 1952, in Los Angeles.

Florence Graybill was Edward Curtis's middle daughter. As a child she was taken on some of his field trips. In the summer of 1922 she assisted Curtis with his work among the Indians of northern California and southern Oregon. Together with Victor Boesen she published Edward Sheriff Curtis: Visions of a Vanishing Race in 1976. She died in 1987.

From the guide to the Edward S. Curtis Papers, 1893-1983, (University of Washington Libraries Special Collections)

Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) was an American photographer, who documented images of more than eighty Native American tribes from throughout North America, taking pictures of all aspects of traditional Indian life. The images were produced in a multiple volume limited edition study North American Indian (1907-1930), and were photographed over a thirty year period from 1895. The project was supported by Theodore Roosevelt and partially funded by J. Pierpont Morgan. One of these sets (number IV) was owned by the University of Exeter Library, having been presented by the Royal Library at Windsor. The set (known as the Curtis Collection) was sold at auction in 2001, as the University's research interests in this area had waned.

Curtis was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Seattle. He was a self-taught photographer and became a partner in a photographic studio in 1892. Through George Grinnell, he was appointed Official Photographer to the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, where he developed interests in North American Indian culture.

From the guide to the Negatives relating to Edward Sheriff Curtis collection of photographs of native American Indians, 20th century, (University of Exeter)

Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) was an American photographer, who documented images of more than eighty Native American tribes from throughout North America, taking pictures of all aspects of traditional Indian life. The images were produced in a multiple volume limited edition study North American Indian (1907-1930), and were photographed over a thirty year period from 1895. The project was supported by Theodore Roosevelt and partially funded by J. Pierpont Morgan. One of these sets (number IV) was owned by the University of Exeter Library, having been presented by the Royal Library at Windsor. The set (known as the Curtis Collection) was sold at auction in 2001, as the University's research interests in this area had waned.

Curtis was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Seattle. He was a self-taught photographer and became a partner in a photographic studio in 1892. Through George Grinnell, he was appointed Official Photographer to the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, where he developed interests in North American Indian culture.

From the guide to the Photographs and display boards relating to exhibition on 'Visions of a vanishing race' by Edward Sheriff Curtis, 1970s-1980s, (University of Exeter)

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Subjects:

  • Hopi Indians--Pictorial works
  • Hopi Indian Reservation (Ariz.)--Pictorial works
  • Indians of North America--History--Photographs
  • Indian baskets
  • Native Americans
  • Indians of North America--Social life and customs--Photographs
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Hopi Indians--Rites and ceremonies--Pictorial works
  • Eskimos--History--Photographs
  • Indian art
  • Indians of North America--Northwest, Pacific
  • Ethnology--Study and teaching
  • Photography in ethnology
  • Photographic historians--Washington (State)--Archives
  • Photographers
  • Photographs
  • Indians of North America--Photographs
  • Photographers--Washington (State)--Archives
  • Indians of North America--Pictorial works
  • Pacific Northwest History
  • Indians of North America
  • Indians of North America--West (U.S.)
  • Sand dunes--Photographs
  • Motion picture actors and actresses--Photographs
  • Photographers--Correspondence
  • Indians of North America--Great Plains
  • Indians of North America--Portraits
  • Hopi women
  • Navajo art

Occupations:

  • Photographers

Places:

  • Alaska (as recorded)
  • Santa Barbara County (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • California--Santa Barbara County (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Navajo Tribe of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah (as recorded)
  • Nunivak Island (Alaska) (as recorded)
  • Northwest, Pacific (as recorded)
  • Hopi Indian Reservation (Ariz.) (as recorded)
  • Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Ariz.) (as recorded)
  • Arizona (as recorded)