Thursday, January 7, 2010

Edward Curtis: Selections from The North American Indian Portfolio

Edward Curtis: Selections from The North American Indian Portfolio

November 5, 2009 – January 10 & January 14 – April 4, 2010

Muskegon Museum of Art Cooper Gallery

Part 1: November 5, 2009 – January 10, 2010

Part 2: January 14 – April 4, 2010

In 1907, photographer Edward Curtis began work on a series of books and portfolios titled The North American Indian. The intent of the project was to document, both in writing and photography, the lives and cultures of the tribes living in the United States. The final project was comprised of 20 leather-bound volumes, each with an accompanying photographic portfolio, for a total of 2,228 illustrations. Edward Curtis began his career as a fine art photographer, and that sensibility guides all of the photographs in the books and portfolios. For anthropologists of his day, Curtis’s artistic technique was inferior to the documentary approach they advocated. The portraits are all carefully staged and lighted to create romanticized, timeless images of his sitters. Other images maintain this staging, and any artifacts from the advance of European civilization were carefully edited out, either in the initial photograph or in the later printing. Curtis’s intention to capture the spirit and nobility of a “vanishing race” clearly influences the content of the images, yet his are some of the best visual documents of the native cultures in the United States from that time.

The North American Indian was available by subscription, but due to the price, only about 220 were ever produced. The Hackley Public Library opened a subscription in 1908 and succeeded in purchasing an entire set of the North American Indian by 1930. Complete sets are extremely rare today. This one—no. 70—was transferred to the MMA in 1976. Highlights from this extensive collection will be displayed in two exhibition installments throughout the winter.

Edward Curtis: Selections from The North American Indian Portfolio is underwritten by the Patrick J. O’Leary Foundation and Blue Lake Public Radio.

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