The Edward S. Curtis photogravure plates and proofs for The North American Indian include photogravure printing plates and associated proofs made from Curtis photographs and used in the publication of The North American Indian volumes 1-9 and 12-19. The bulk of the images are portraits, though there are also images of everyday items, ceremonial artifacts, and camps.
Scope and Contents:
The collection comprises 183 photogravure plates (101 folio and 82 octavo) and 96 associated proofs used in the printing of The North American Indian volumes 1-9 and 12-19. The original photographs used to make the photogravures were made circa 1903-1926 and the photogravure plates were made in 1907-1930. The bulk are portraits, though there are also images of everyday items, ceremonial artifacts, and camps. About half of the proofs in the collection are originals used for Curtis's publication, though the collection also includes proofs made in the process of later publication by the Classic Gravure Company (circa 1980). Vintage proofs include handwritten notes, likely made by Curtis Studio employees in Seattle and Los Angeles. Many of the photogravure plates do not have matching proofs; in particular, there are no proofs for the octavo plates.
The plates and proofs are arranged by the volume of The North American Indian in which they were published. They are described in this finding aid by the caption and plate number with which they were published.
Biographical / Historical:
Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952) was an American photographer best known for his monumental and now-controversial project, the twenty-volume publication The North American Indian. Here he sought to document in words and pictures the "vanishing race" of American Indians.
Born in Wisconsin in 1868, Edward Curtis grew up on his family's farm in Le Sueur County, Minnesota, from 1874 to 1887. In 1887, he and his father Johnson Curtis settled on a plot near what is now Port Orchard, Washington, and the rest of the family joined them the following year. When Johnson Curtis died within a month of the family's arrival, the burden of providing for his mother and siblings fell to 20-year-old Edward, and Edward set out to do so through his photography. In 1891, Curtis moved to the booming city of Seattle and bought into a joint photo studio with Rasmus Rothi. Less than a year later, he formed "Curtis and Guptill, Photographers and Photoengravers" with Thomas Guptill; the enterprise quickly became a premier portrait studio for Seattle's elite. In 1895, Curtis made his first "Indian photograph" depicting Princess Angeline, daughter of the chief for whom Seattle had been named. The following year he earned his first medal from the National Photographic Convention for his "genre studies."
In 1899, Edward Curtis joined the Harriman Alaska Expedition as official photographer, a position which allowed him to learn from anthropologists C. Hart Merriam and George Bird Grinnell while documenting the landscapes and peoples of the Alaskan coast. This expedition and the resulting friendship with Grinnell helped to foster Curtis's ultimate goal to "form a comprehensive and permanent record of all the important tribes of the United States and Alaska that still retain to a considerable degree their primitive customs and traditions" (General Introduction, The North American Indian). Curtis made several trips to reservations from 1900 to 1904, including a trip with Grinnell to Montana in 1900 and multiple trips to the Southwest, including the Hopi Reservation. He also hired Adolph Muhr, former assistant to Omaha photographer Frank A. Rinehart, to manage the Curtis studio in his absence, a decision which would prove more and more fruitful as Curtis spent less and less time in Seattle.
In 1906, Curtis struck a deal with financier J. P. Morgan, whereby Morgan would support a company – The North American Indian, Inc. – with $15,000 for five years, by which time the project was expected to have ended. Systematic fieldwork for the publication began in earnest that summer season, with Curtis accompanied by a team of ethnological researchers and American Indian assistants. Arguably the most important member of Curtis' field team was William Myers, a former newspaperman who collected much of the ethnological data and completed most of the writing for the project. The first volume, covering Navajo and Apache peoples, was published at the end of 1907, but already Morgan's funding was incapable of meeting Curtis's needs. Despite heaping praise from society's elite, Curtis spent much of his time struggling to find people and institutions willing to subscribe to the expensive set of volumes. After the initial five years, only eight of the proposed twenty volumes had been completed. Fieldwork and publication continued with the support of J. P. Morgan, but Curtis's home life suffered because of his prolonged absences.
In 1919, Curtis's wife Clara was awarded a divorce settlement which included the entire Curtis studio in Seattle. Exhausted and bankrupt, Edward Curtis moved with his daughter Beth Magnuson to Los Angeles, where they operated a new Curtis Studio and continued work on the volumes; volume 12 was published
in 1922. The constant financial strain forced Myers to leave the North American Indian team after volume 18 (fieldwork in 1926) and Curtis made his last trip to photograph and gather data for volume 20 in 1927. After the final volumes were published in 1930, Curtis almost completely faded from public notice until his work was "rediscovered" and popularized in the 1970s.
Curtis's "salvage ethnology," as scholar Mick Gidley describes it, was mildly controversial even during his life and has become ever more so as his legacy deepens. In his quest to photograph pre-colonial Indian life through a twentieth-century lens, he often manipulated and constructed history as much as he recorded it: he staged reenactments, added props, and removed evidence of twentieth-century influences on "primitive" life. Curtis's work continues to shape popular conceptions of American Indians and so, while problematic, his legacy--his vision of American Indian life--continues to be relevant.
NMAI also holds Edward Curtis photographs documenting the Harriman Expedition (1899) as well as platinum prints and photogravures of the images published in The North American Indian.
The Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives holds Edward Curtis prints submitted for copyright (Photo Lot 59) as well as many of his original negatives, photographs, and papers.
Steve Kern donated photogravure plates to the Center for Creative Photography and the Seattle Art Museum at the same time that he donated this set to MAI.
This collection was donated by Steven and Arlene Kern to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, in 1984.
Access to NMAI Archive Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email: email@example.com).
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish or broadcast materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center. Please submit a written request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indians of North America -- Pictorial works Search this
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Edward S. Curtis photogravure plates and proofs for The North American Indian, Box and Folder Number; National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.
This collection was processed with funding from the Smithsonian Women's Committee.
Deming, Therese O. (Therese Osterheld), b. 1874 Search this
0.2 Linear feet
[undated] and 1923-1925
Scope and Contents:
Typescript (photocopy), "The Life of Edwin Willard Deming," possibly by his daughter Alden Deming, undated; a priced list of Deming's works of art; copyprints made from glass slides, including 23 of works of art, and 22 of American Indians and related scenes; a catalog from the Brooklyn Museum exhibition on Deming, "Paintings, Decorations, and Bronzes of American Indians and Animals," 1922; and the publication by Therese O. Deming, "Edwin Willard Deming: His Work," c1925.
Biographical / Historical:
Painter, illustrator, sculptor; specialized in depicting American Indians. Since childhood, Deming had a close association with various tribes of American Indians.
Donated 1991 by Josephine W. Deming, the widow of Deming's son, Hall.
Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.
The papers of painter and illustrator W. Langdon Kihn measure approximately 8.5 linear feet and date from 1904-1990, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1904-1957. Papers document Kihn's career and travels associated with his interests in documenting the native American tribal nations of the United States and Canada in portraiture and writings. Found here are biographical materials, voluminous correspondence, memoirs and writings, one travel diary, printed material, financial records, three sketchbooks, sketches, and photographs.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of painter and illustrator W. Langdon Kihn measure approximately 8.5 linear feet and date from 1904-1990, with the bulk of the materials dating from 1904-1957. Papers document Kihn's career and travels associated with his interests in documenting the native American tribal nations of the United States and Canada in portraiture and writings. Found here are biographical material, voluminous correspondence, memoirs and writings, one travel diary, printed material, financial records, three sketchbooks, sketches, and photographs.
Biographical materials include address books, membership cards, exhibition and price lists, legal and travel documents, as well as biographical notes. Additional biographical sketches are found in the Writings and Notes series.
Correspondence is the largest series in the collection, almost half of the papers. In addition to letters to W. Langdon Kihn, this series include both originals and drafts of his outgoing letters; letters to his wife Helen from friends; third party business correspondence between his father, Alfred Kihn, and various parties undertaken on his son's behalf; and third party correspondence addressed to his friend and colleague, the Canadian ethnographer, Marius Barbeau. In addition to Barbeau, significant correspondents include Constance Lindsay Skinner, Chester and Maud Dale, Sir Henry Wellcome, Pierre and Marie "May" Lecompte du Noüy, and Reginald and Gladys Laubin. Although there is little correspondence with other artists, those represented with cards and letters in this collection include Boris Artzybasheff, Maynard Dixon, Olin Dows, Thornton Oakley, and Kihn's summer art school partner, Gus Wiggins. Correspondence with Franklin L. Fisher, Chief of National Geographic Magazine's Illustrated Division and Matthew W. Striling, Chief of the Bureau of American Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution dominate the period spanning from 1935 - 1952, the years of Kihn's close association with the National Geographic Society.
Writings and notes includes manuscripts and typescripts of articles, poems, lectures, memoirs, and other writings by Kihn and others. There is one travel diary dated circa 1924-1925, and numerous writings about Kihn's travels and documentation of native American Indians.
Printed materials include exhibition catalogs, travel brochures, and magazine and newspaper clippings. Also found here are copies of Kihn's illustrations for books by other authors, including Beaver, Kings and Cabins, by Constance Lindsay Skinner, as well as proofs from the National Geographic series on American Indians arranged by geographic location. Financial records consist of invoices and receipts related to Kihn's artwork, traveling, and exhibitions.
Three sketchbooks and loose sketches include illustrated field notes and other drawings that document Kihn's travels and of native Americans. Photographs are of Kihn, and of Kihn at work. There are also photographs of Kihn's artwork.
The collection is arranged into 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, circa 1916-1957 (Box 1; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, circa 1904-1959 (Boxes 1-5; 4.0 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings and Notes, circa 1920-1990 (Box 5-6; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 4: Printed Material, circa 1920-1957 (Boxes 6-8, OV 10; 2.2 linear feet)
Series 5: Financial Records, 1920-1955 (Box 8; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Sketchbooks and Sketches, circa 1922-1955 (Boxes 8-9, OV 10; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 7: Photographs, circa 1920-1955 (Box 9; 5 folders)
Born in Brooklyn, New York, W. (Wilfred) Langdon Kihn (1898-1959) is best known for his portraits of American Indians and illustrations of their history, culture and rapidly disappearing way of life. In 1919, Kihn joined his art teacher Winold Reiss on a trip to the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana where he completed his first series of portraits. This marked the beginning of his lifelong career of documenting the tribal nations of the United States and Canada. Through commissions from Canadian and American Railroad companies, Kihn spent much of the 1920s traversing both the United States and Northwest Canada where he had the opportunity to record the members and lives of various tribes. During this period, his paintings also traveled the country in a one man exhibition of his American Indian portraits, which was arranged by the Brooklyn Museum, and traveled to about 40 institutions in the United States. However his largest and best known commission was a project to research and paint North American Indians for serial publication in National Geographic. Kihn received the commission in 1935 and his association with the organization spanned two decades, culminating in the 1955 exhibition of his work at the National Geographic Museum, Washington, D.C, and the publication Indians of the Americas, with copius illustrations derived from Kihn's paintings and drawings.
In addition to his travels and work in North America, Kihn enjoyed a brief stint between 1929-1932 painting in France and Spain. Upon his return he focused upon obtaining commercial work and enjoyed success as an illustrator, whose work was featured in Beaver, Kings and Cabins (1933) and Flat Tail (1935), among other books. Kihn also wrote articles about his travels; amateur painters, whom he specialized in teaching; and American Indian legends and tribal cultures. Between 1948-1951 he was a partner in the Guy Wiggins-W. Langdon Kihn Art School in Essex, Connecticut. He married Helen Butler in 1920 and in between their travels the couple eventually settled in East Haddam, Connecticut. W. Langdon Kihn died in 1957.
Helen Kihn, W. Langdon Kihn's widow, donated the bulk of the collection in 1959. In 1994 Phyllis Kihn, the artist's daughter, donated pages 1-8 of Kihn's original manuscript of his memoirs and a transcript of the complete memoirs.
Use of original papers requires an appointment.