Monday, January 26, 2009

Who is Edward Curtis?

"All I want you to understand, before you read the book I've written, before you even spend another day entertainin gthe idea that Edward Curtis was a saint, or a poet, or hero, is that his life was long. His life was...complicated." -Marianne Wiggins

Photographer Edward S. Curtis, known as “The Shadow Catcher,” created a defining moment in American publishing history with The North American Indian, a collection of more than 40,000 images and rare ethnographic information on over eighty American Indian tribal groups. He spent thirty years photographing American Indian tribes west of the Mississippi, ranging from the Mexican border to the Arctic.

Born near Whitewater, Wisconsin in 1868, Curtis exhibited an interest in photography from an early age, constructing a camera and processing prints by the time his formal education ended with the sixth grade. He married and had four children after his family moved to Seattle. Following a chance meeting in 1898, on Mt. Rainer with a group of mountaineers, including experts in the areas of conservation, forestry, Indian ethnography and publishing, Curtis launched his North American Indian project.

Despite continued financial hardships during the thirty years it took to publish the twenty-volume The North American Indian, Curtis was able to employ technicians, scholars, and researchers to assist with collecting intricate details of past and present Native American cultures. His dedication to recording as much detail of traditional life as possible is evident; his work includes descriptions of dwellings, food, clothing, burial customs, games, and mythology. The final volume was published in 1930. Edward S. Curtis died in Los Angeles in 1952 at the age of 84.

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