Recorded in: San Ildefonso (N.M.), United States, New Mexico, February 24, 1992.
Restrictions on access. Some duplication is allowed. Use of materials needs permission of the Smithsonian Institution.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival records: 1992 Festival of American Folklife, Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and Collections, Smithsonian Institution.
The collection comprises Edward S. Curtis original and copy negatives, prints, and photogravures relating to the Harriman Alaska Expedition and Curtis's 20 volume publication, the North American Indian (NAI), as well as ephemera and one gold-tone of Fort Lapawi.
Scope and Contents:
The Christopher Cardozo collection of Edward S. Curtis papers and photographs primarily relate to Curtis's opus, the North American Indian, and also the 1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition. Papers in the collection include promotional ephemera for the NAI as well as articles by Curtis and others. Photographic material includes original and copy negatives, prints, two Harriman Alaska Expedition souvenir albums, and one gold-tone of Fort Lapawi.
The collection is arranged in two series: 1. Papers; and 2. Photographs and photogravures.
Biographical / Historical:
Edward Sherriff Curtis (1868-1952) was an American photographer famous for his photographs of the indigenous peoples of North America. His work was highly influential in shaping a sympathetic yet romantic view of cultures that he and many others believed to be "vanishing." Over the course of 30 years, Curtis visited more than 80 Native American communities and published his photographs and ethnographies in the twenty-volume North American Indian (NAI) (1907-1930).
Curtis was born in Whitewater, Wisconsin, to Ellen and Johnson Curtis in 1868. In about 1874, his family moved to a farm in Cordova, Minnesota. At a young age, Curtis built a camera, and it is possible that he may have worked in a Minneapolis photography studio for a time. In 1887, Curtis and his father moved West and settled on a plot near what is now Port Orchard, Washington, with the rest of the family joining them the following year. When Johnson Curtis died within a month of the family's arrival, 20-year-old Curtis became the head of the family.
In 1891, Curtis moved to Seattle and bought into a photo studio with Rasmus Rothi. Less than a year later, he and Thomas Guptill formed "Curtis and Guptill, Photographers and Photoengravers." The endeavor became a premier portrait studio for Seattle society and found success in photoengraving for many local publications. In 1892, Curtis married Clara Phillips (1874-1932) and in 1893 their son Harold was born (1893-1988), followed by Elizabeth (Beth) (1896-1973), Florence (1899-1987) and Katherine (Billy) (1909-?). Around 1895, Curtis made his first photographs of local Native people, including the daughter of Duwamish chief Seattle: Kickisomlo or "Princess Angeline." Curtis submitted a series of his Native American photographs to the National Photographic Convention, and received an award in the category of "genre studies" for Homeward (later published in volume 9 of the NAI). In 1896, the entire Curtis family moved to Seattle, which included Curtis's mother, his siblings Eva and Asahel, Clara's sisters Susie and Nellie Phillips, and their cousin William Phillips. Most of the household worked in Curtis's studio along with other employees. Curtis became sole proprietor of the studio in 1897, which remained a popular portrait studio but also sold his scenic landscapes and views of the Seattle Area. Curtis also sent his brother Asahel to Alaska and the Yukon to photograph the Klondike Gold Rush, and sold those views as well. Asahel went on to become a well-known photographer in his own right, primarily working in the American Northwest.
Curtis was an avid outdoorsman and joined the Mazamas Club after his first of many climbs of Mount Rainier. On a climb in 1898, Curtis evidently met a group of scientists, including C. Hart Merriam, George Bird Grinnell, and Gifford Pinchot, who had lost their way on the mountain, and led them to safety. This encounter led to an invitation from Merriam for Curtis to accompany a group of over 30 well-known scientists, naturalists, and artists as the official photographer on a maritime expedition to the Alaskan coast. Funded by railroad magnate Edward Harriman, the Harriman Alaska Expedition left Seattle in May of 1899, and returned at the end of July. Curtis made around 5000 photographs during the trip, including photographs of the indigenous peoples they met as well as views of mountains, glaciers, and other natural features. Many of the photographs appeared in the expedition's 14 published volumes of their findings.
In 1900, Curtis accompanied Grinnell to Montana for a Blackfoot Sundance. Here, Curtis made numerous photographs and became interested in the idea of a larger project to document the Native peoples of North America. Almost immediately upon returning from the Sundance, Curtis set off for the Southwest to photograph Puebloan communities. By 1904, Curtis had already held at least one exhibit of his "Indian pictures" and his project 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 NAI) had taken shape and already received some press coverage. With his fieldwork now increasing his absences from home, Curtis hired Adolph Muhr, former assistant to Omaha photographer Frank Rinehart, to help manage the Seattle studio.
In 1904, Curtis was a winner in the Ladies Home Journal "Prettiest Children In America" portrait contest. His photograph of Marie Fischer was selected as one of 112 that would be published and Fischer was one of 12 children selected from the photographs who would have their portrait painted by Walter Russell. Russell and Curtis made an acquaintance while Russell was in Seattle to paint Fischer's portrait, and not long afterwards, Russell contacted Curtis to make photographic studies of Theodore Roosevelt's children for portraits he would paint. Curtis subsequently photographed the entire Roosevelt family, and developed a social connection with the President. Several important outcomes came of this new friendship, including Roosevelt eventually writing the foreword to the NAI, as well as making introductions to influential people.
Key among these introductions was one to wealthy financier John Pierpont Morgan, in 1906. After a brief meeting with Curtis during which he viewed several of Curtis's photographs of Native Americans, Morgan agreed to finance the fieldwork for the NAI project for five years, at $15,000.00 per year. It was up to Curtis to cover publishing and promotion costs, with the publication being sold as a subscription. In return, Morgan would receive 25 sets of the 20-volume publication. The ambitious publication plan outlined 20 volumes of ethnological text, each to be illustrated with 75 photogravure prints made from acid-etched copper plates. Each volume would be accompanied by a companion portfolio of 35 large photogravures. With high-quality papers and fine binding, a set would cost $3000.00. 500 sets were planned. Under Morgan, the North American Indian, Inc. formed as body to administer the monies. Also around this time, Frederick Webb Hodge, Director of the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of American Ethnology, agreed to edit the publications.
Curtis then began more systematic fieldwork, accompanied by a team of research assistants and Native interpreters. In 1906, Curtis hired William E. Myers, a former journalist, as a field assistant and stenographer. Over the years, Myers became the lead researcher on the project, making enormous contributions in collecting data and possibly doing the bulk of the writing for the first 18 volumes. Upon meeting a new community, Curtis and his team would work on gathering data dealing with all aspects of the community's life, including language, social and political organization, religion, food ways, measures and values, and many other topics. (See box 2 folder 1 in this collection for Curtis's list of topics.) Curtis and his assistants, especially Myers, brought books and papers to the field relating to the tribes they were currently concerned with, and often wrote from the field to anthropologists at the Bureau of American Ethnology and other institutions for information or publications. In addition to fieldnotes and photographs, the team also employed sound recording equipment, making thousands of recordings on wax cylinders. Curtis also often brought a motion picture camera, although few of his films have survived.
The first volume of the NAI was published towards the end of 1907. Already, Curtis was encountering difficulty in finding subscribers to the publication despite great praise in the press and among those who could afford the volumes. Curtis spent progressively more of his time outside the field season promoting the project through lectures and in 1911, presenting his "Picture Musicale"—a lecture illustrated with lantern slides and accompanied by an original musical score—in major cities. After the initial five funded years, only eight of the twenty volumes had been completed. However, Morgan agreed to continue support for the fieldwork and publication continued.
Starting in 1910, Curtis and his team worked among the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nation on Vancouver Island, and in 1913 began to develop a documentary film project featuring the community in Alert Bay. In 1914, Curtis produced the feature-length film, In the Land of the Headhunters. The film showcased an all-indigenous cast and included an original musical score. Screened in New York and Seattle, it received high praise. However after this initial success, it did not receive the attention Curtis had hoped for, and resulted in financial loss.
Meanwhile, Curtis's prolonged absences from home had taken a toll on his marriage and in 1919 Clara and Edward divorced. The Seattle studio was awarded to Clara, and Curtis moved to Los Angeles, opening a photography studio with his daughter Beth and her husband Manford "Mag" Magnuson. Daughters Florence and Katherine came to Los Angeles sometime later. Curtis continued with fieldwork and promotion of the project, and in 1922 volume 12 of the NAI was published. Also in 1922, Curtis was accompanied during the field season in California by his daughter Florence Curtis Graybill, the first time a family member had gone to the field with him since the Curtis children were very small.
Curtis continued to push the project and publications along, yet never without financial struggle and he picked up work in Hollywood as both a still and motion picture photographer. John Pierpont Morgan, Jr., continued to provide funding for the fieldwork in memory of his father, but with the various financial upsets of the 1910s and 1920s, Curtis had a difficult time getting subscribers on board. In 1926, Myers, feeling the strain, regretfully resigned after the completion of volume 18. Anthropologist Frank Speck recommended Stewart Eastwood, a recent graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, to replace Myers as ethnologist for the final two volumes.
In 1927, Curtis and his team, along with his daughter Beth Curtis Magnuson, headed north from Seattle to Alaska and Canada on a final field season. Harsh weather and a hip injury made the trip difficult for Curtis, but he was very satisfied with the season's work. The party returned to Seattle, and upon arrival Curtis was arrested for unpaid alimony. He returned exhausted to Los Angeles, and in 1930 the final two volumes of NAI were published without fanfare. Curtis spent the next two years recovering from physical and mental exhaustion. Beth and Mag continued to run the Curtis studio in LA, but for the most part, Curtis had set down his camera for good. With the NAI behind him and his health recovered, Curtis pursued various interests and employment, eventually, settling down on a farm outside Los Angeles. he later moved in with Beth and Mag. Curtis died at home in 1952.
Sources Cited Davis, Barbara. Edward S. Curtis: the life and times of a shadowcatcher. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1984. Gidley, Mick. The North American Indian, Incorporated. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Christopher Cardozo (1948-2021) was a major collector and dealer in Edward S. Curtis photography.
The National Anthropological Archives holds additional Curtis papers and photographs in NAA.2010-28, the Edward S. Curtis papers and photographs, MS 2000-18, the Edward Curtis investigation of the battle of Little Bighorn and Photo Lot 59, the Library of Congress copyright prints collection.
The Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University holds Curtis's wax cylinder audio recordings from 1907-1913.
The Braun Research Library at the Autry Museum of the American West holds the Frederick Webb Hodge papers (1888-1931), which contain substantial correspondence from Curtis. The Braun also holds a small amount of Curtis papers and photographs, including some of Curtis's cyanotypes.
The Getty Research Institute holds the Edward S. Curtis papers (1900-1978), which include the original manuscript scores for the Curtis Picture Musicale and film In the Land of the Headhunters.
The Palace of the Governors at the New Mexico History Museum holds original Curtis negatives pertaining to the southwest.
The Pierpont Morgan Library holds the Edward S. Curtis papers (1906-1947), which contain the records of the North American Indian, Inc., as well as Curtis's correspondence to librarian, and later library director, Belle Da Costa Greene. The library also holds a large collection of Curtis's lantern slides, used in his Picture Musicale.
The Seattle Public Library holds correspondence of Curtis to Librarian Harriet Leitch (1948-1951), pertaining to his career.
The Seaver Center for Western History Research at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History holds collection GC 1143, which contains Curtis's field notes as well as manuscript drafts for the North American Indian.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian holds NMAI.AC.080, the Edward S. Curtis photogravure plates and proofs, as well as NMAI.AC.053, the Mary Harriman Rumsey collection of Harriman Alaska Expedition photographs.
The University of Washington Libraries Special Collections holds the Edward S. Curtis papers (1893-1983). Additionally, the Burke Museum holds papers and photographs of Edmund Schwinke, which relate to Curtis's work with the Kwakwaka'wakw community.
The collection was donated to the National Anthropological Archives by Julie Cardozo in 2022.
Viewing of the photographic negatives requires advance notice and the permission of the Photo Archivist.
The collection consists of three (3) drawings of kivas at San Ildefonso Pueblo. The drawings were commissioned by the Bureau of American Ethnology, possibly for Matilda Coxe Stevenson. The collection also contains a purchase order and invoice for the drawings.
Please note that the contents of the collection and the language and terminology used reflect the context and culture of the time of its creation. As an historical document, its contents may be at odds with contemporary views and terminology and considered offensive today. The information within this collection does not reflect the views of the Smithsonian Institution or National Anthropological Archives, but is available in its original form to facilitate research.
NAA MS 2628
Access to the collection is restricted due to cultural sensitivity. Contact the repository for more information.
Works of art
MS 2628 Drawings of kivas at San Ildefonso Pueblo, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution