Sacred Legacy: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian

Overview

One hundred years ago, Edward Sheriff Curtis began a thirty-year odyssey to photograph and document the lives and traditions of the Native peoples of North America. This monumental project was hailed by The New York Herald as "the most gigantic undertaking since the making of the King James edition of the Bible."

In this landmark volume, almost 200 of the finest examples of Curtis's photographs are reproduced with startling fidelity to his original prints. Produced to the very ...

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Overview

One hundred years ago, Edward Sheriff Curtis began a thirty-year odyssey to photograph and document the lives and traditions of the Native peoples of North America. This monumental project was hailed by The New York Herald as "the most gigantic undertaking since the making of the King James edition of the Bible."

In this landmark volume, almost 200 of the finest examples of Curtis's photographs are reproduced with startling fidelity to his original prints. Produced to the very highest standards, Sacred Legacy presents Curtis's work without compromise for the first time in the modern era. Taken together, these profound images constitute no less than the core and essence of his life's work. Until now, virtually none of Curtis's photographs have been reproduced in a manner that captures the clarity and richness of his original master prints. In Sacred Legacy, his greatest images are reproduced from the finest source materials available -- a significant number from breathtaking platinum, gold, and silver prints. All have been carefully selected for pub lication and for an accompanying international exhibition by Curtis authority Christopher Cardozo.

In an effort to bring a new understanding to Curtis's monumental work, Sacred Legacy was developed according to the organizing principles set forth by the great photographer himself. Following the path la id out in his 20 volume magnum opus, The North American Indian, geographic regions are presented separately and individual tribes within each region are depicted and described. Interspersed between these sections are compelling portrayals of those aspects of life common to all tribes, among themspirituality. ceremony, arts, and the activities of daily life.

With The North American Indian, Curtis achieved the impossible: an extraordinary 20 -volume set of handmade books composed of nearly 4,000 pages of text and 2,200 images presenting more than 80 of North America's Native nations. Luminous, iconic, and profoundly revealing, the pictures that form the heart of the original project are reproduced here in Sacred Legacy. These extraordinary photographs had an immense impact on the national imagination and continue to shape the way we see Native life and culture.

Sacred Legacy is a fitting testament to the profound beauty, meaning, and complexity of Indian life and to Edward S. Curtis -- a man whose wisdom, passion, and strength drove him to devote thirty years to capturing the nobility and pride of the Native peoples of North America. The photographs in this brilliant volume represent the most important presentation of Curtis's work since the publication of the first volume of Me North American Indian nearly a century ago.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743203746
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/1/1900
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 10.95 (w) x 13.37 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Sacred Legacy

Edward S Curtis And The North American Indian
By Edward S. Curtis

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2000 Edward S. Curtis
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743203747

Foreword

N. Scott Momaday

Photography, at its best, is authentic art, an expression of the creative imagination informed by an original perception of the world. It is said that the camera, by virtue of its very presence, alters reality. Too often a photograph is simply the static record of an image -- an object, a figure, a place -- in bare definition. A photograph commonly records a facade, the surface of a moment, a nick of geologic time. And as such it is necessarily a distortion, a kind of visible plane beyond which we cannot see. But in the hands of an extraordinary artist the camera can penetrate to a deeper level. For Edward Sheriff Curtis the camera was truly a magic box, a precision instrument that enabled him to draw with light, to transcend the limits of ordinary vision, to see into the shadows of the soul. It is not by accident that he was called by his American Indian subjects "Shadow Catcher."

Some years ago I purchased a Curtis photograph of Plains Indians on horseback, moving with travois across an immense landscape of grasses. I had recently written The Way to Rainy Mountain, a story from oral tradition of the migration my Kiowa ancestors made from the Yellowstone to the Southern Plains, the last migration of the last culture to evolve in North America. I had not seen the photograph before. It struck me with such force that tears came to my eyes. I felt that I was looking into a memory in my blood. Here was a moment lost in time, a moment I had known only in my imagination, suddenly verified, an image immediately translated from the mind's eye to the picture plane. More even than that, it was the evocation of a timeless and universal journey and of the spirit of a people moving inexorably toward a destiny. There is a quality to the image, the composition, the invisible plane beyond the surface of the scene that is ineffable. It is a quality that informs the greatest art, and it is the standard in the Curtis photographs.

Taken as a whole, the work of Edward Curtis is a singular achievement. Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession. These photographs comprehend more than an aboriginal culture, more than a prehistoric past -- more, even, than a venture into a world of incomparable beauty and nobility. Curtis's photographs comprehend indispensable images of every human being at every time in every place. In the focus upon the landscape of the continent and its indigenous people, a Curtis photograph becomes universal. Edward Curtis preserved for us the unmistakable evidence of our involvement in the universe. Curtis was acutely alive to evanescence; indeed, in a real sense it is his subject. The portraits here are of people whose way of life is coming rapidly to an end. We see the full awareness of this in their eyes. And yet these visages are not to be defined in terms of despair. Rather, there is a general information of fortitude, patience, and something like assent, and above all composure and valor. In the face of such a man as Slow Bull, for example, there seem etched the very principles of the warrior ideal: bravery, steadfastness, generosity, and virtue. We do not doubt that he is real in his mind and heart, in his word and in his vision. The same can be said of the portraits of Red Cloud, Chief Joseph, and Bear's Belly -- in his bear robe -- there is an amalgam of man and wilderness, an equation that is a definition of the American Indian in relation to nature. And yet, in all of these photographs there is a privacy so profound as to be inviolable. A Navajo weaver sits at her loom before a canyon wall. She is a silhouette; her loom is a geometry that seems essential to her being, organic, the extension of her hands into the earth itself. A young girl in her finery stands before her play tipi; she is every young girl who has ever lived upon the earth.

Edward Curtis wrote of himself, "While primarily a photographer, I do not see or think photographically; hence the story of Indian life will not be told in microscopic detail, but rather will be presented as a broad and luminous picture." We must be grateful for this insight and for this intention: the world of these photographs is one in which breadth and luminosity are indispensable dimensions of spirit and reality.

This definitive collection of the Curtis photographs is an American treasure. They are not artifacts or cultural exhibits; they are not fossil records or curiosities. They are validations of an important and unique moment in the evolution of an American identity. That moment is forever ours, and it is indeed a sacred legacy.

Copyright © 2000 by Simon & Schuster

Foreword

N. Scott Momaday

Photography, at its best, is authentic art, an expression of the creative imagination informed by an original perception of the world. It is said that the camera, by virtue of its very presence, alters reality. Too often a photograph is simply the static record of an image -- an object, a figure, a place -- in bare definition. A photograph commonly records a facade, the surface of a moment, a nick of geologic time. And as such it is necessarily a distortion, a kind of visible plane beyond which we cannot see. But in the hands of an extraordinary artist the camera can penetrate to a deeper level. For Edward Sheriff Curtis the camera was truly a magic box, a precision instrument that enabled him to draw with light, to transcend the limits of ordinary vision, to see into the shadows of the soul. It is not by accident that he was called by his American Indian subjects "Shadow Catcher."

Some years ago I purchased a Curtis photograph of Plains Indians on horseback, moving with travois across an immense landscape of grasses. I had recently written The Way to Rainy Mountain, a story from oral tradition of the migration my Kiowa ancestors made from the Yellowstone to the Southern Plains, the last migration of the last culture to evolve in North America. I had not seen the photograph before. It struck me with such force that tears came to my eyes. I felt that I was looking into a memory in my blood. Here was a moment lost in time, a moment I had known only in my imagination, suddenly verified, an image immediately translated from the mind's eye to the picture plane. More even than that, it was the evocation of a timeless and universal journey and of the spirit of a people moving inexorably toward a destiny. There is a quality to the image, the composition, the invisible plane beyond the surface of the scene that is ineffable. It is a quality that informs the greatest art, and it is the standard in the Curtis photographs.

Taken as a whole, the work of Edward Curtis is a singular achievement. Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession. These photographs comprehend more than an aboriginal culture, more than a prehistoric past -- more, even, than a venture into a world of incomparable beauty and nobility. Curtis's photographs comprehend indispensable images of every human being at every time in every place. In the focus upon the landscape of the continent and its indigenous people, a Curtis photograph becomes universal. Edward Curtis preserved for us the unmistakable evidence of our involvement in the universe. Curtis was acutely alive to evanescence; indeed, in a real sense it is his subject. The portraits here are of people whose way of life is coming rapidly to an end. We see the full awareness of this in their eyes. And yet these visages are not to be defined in terms of despair. Rather, there is a general information of fortitude, patience, and something like assent, and above all composure and valor. In the face of such a man as Slow Bull, for example, there seem etched the very principles of the warrior ideal: bravery, steadfastness, generosity, and virtue. We do not doubt that he is real in his mind and heart, in his word and in his vision. The same can be said of the portraits of Red Cloud, Chief Joseph, and Bear's Belly -- in his bear robe -- there is an amalgam of man and wilderness, an equation that is a definition of the American Indian in relation to nature. And yet, in all of these photographs there is a privacy so profound as to be inviolable. A Navajo weaver sits at her loom before a canyon wall. She is a silhouette; her loom is a geometry that seems essential to her being, organic, the extension of her hands into the earth itself. A young girl in her finery stands before her play tipi; she is every young girl who has ever lived upon the earth.

Edward Curtis wrote of himself, "While primarily a photographer, I do not see or think photographically; hence the story of Indian life will not be told in microscopic detail, but rather will be presented as a broad and luminous picture." We must be grateful for this insight and for this intention: the world of these photographs is one in which breadth and luminosity are indispensable dimensions of spirit and reality.

This definitive collection of the Curtis photographs is an American treasure. They are not artifacts or cultural exhibits; they are not fossil records or curiosities. They are validations of an important and unique moment in the evolution of an American identity. That moment is forever ours, and it is indeed a sacred legacy.

Copyright © 2000 by Simon & Schuster

Foreword

N. Scott Momaday

Photography, at its best, is authentic art, an expression of the creative imagination informed by an original perception of the world. It is said that the camera, by virtue of its very presence, alters reality. Too often a photograph is simply the static record of an image -- an object, a figure, a place -- in bare definition. A photograph commonly records a facade, the surface of a moment, a nick of geologic time. And as such it is necessarily a distortion, a kind of visible plane beyond which we cannot see. But in the hands of an extraordinary artist the camera can penetrate to a deeper level. For Edward Sheriff Curtis the camera was truly a magic box, a precision instrument that enabled him to draw with light, to transcend the limits of ordinary vision, to see into the shadows of the soul. It is not by accident that he was called by his American Indian subjects "Shadow Catcher."

Some years ago I purchased a Curtis photograph of Plains Indians on horseback, moving with travois across an immense landscape of grasses. I had recently written The Way to Rainy Mountain, a story from oral tradition of the migration my Kiowa ancestors made from the Yellowstone to the Southern Plains, the last migration of the last culture to evolve in North America. I had not seen the photograph before. It struck me with such force that tears came to my eyes. I felt that I was looking into a memory in my blood. Here was a moment lost in time, a moment I had known only in my imagination, suddenly verified, an image immediately translated from the mind's eye to the picture plane. More even than that, it was the evocation of a timeless and universal journey and of the spirit of a people moving inexorably toward a destiny. There is a quality to the image, the composition, the invisible plane beyond the surface of the scene that is ineffable. It is a quality that informs the greatest art, and it is the standard in the Curtis photographs.

Taken as a whole, the work of Edward Curtis is a singular achievement. Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession. These photographs comprehend more than an aboriginal culture, more than a prehistoric past -- more, even, than a venture into a world of incomparable beauty and nobility. Curtis's photographs comprehend indispensable images of every human being at every time in every place. In the focus upon the landscape of the continent and its indigenous people, a Curtis photograph becomes universal. Edward Curtis preserved for us the unmistakable evidence of our involvement in the universe. Curtis was acutely alive to evanescence; indeed, in a real sense it is his subject. The portraits here are of people whose way of life is coming rapidly to an end. We see the full awareness of this in their eyes. And yet these visages are not to be defined in terms of despair. Rather, there is a general information of fortitude, patience, and something like assent, and above all composure and valor. In the face of such a man as Slow Bull, for example, there seem etched the very principles of the warrior ideal: bravery, steadfastness, generosity, and virtue. We do not doubt that he is real in his mind and heart, in his word and in his vision. The same can be said of the portraits of Red Cloud, Chief Joseph, and Bear's Belly -- in his bear robe -- there is an amalgam of man and wilderness, an equation that is a definition of the American Indian in relation to nature. And yet, in all of these photographs there is a privacy so profound as to be inviolable. A Navajo weaver sits at her loom before a canyon wall. She is a silhouette; her loom is a geometry that seems essential to her being, organic, the extension of her hands into the earth itself. A young girl in her finery stands before her play tipi; she is every young girl who has ever lived upon the earth.

Edward Curtis wrote of himself, "While primarily a photographer, I do not see or think photographically; hence the story of Indian life will not be told in microscopic detail, but rather will be presented as a broad and luminous picture." We must be grateful for this insight and for this intention: the world of these photographs is one in which breadth and luminosity are indispensable dimensions of spirit and reality.

This definitive collection of the Curtis photographs is an American treasure. They are not artifacts or cultural exhibits; they are not fossil records or curiosities. They are validations of an important and unique moment in the evolution of an American identity. That moment is forever ours, and it is indeed a sacred legacy.

Copyright © 2000 by Simon & Schuster



Continues...


Excerpted from Sacred Legacy by Edward S. Curtis Copyright © 2000 by Edward S. Curtis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction
A Personal Legacy
The Great Plains
Spirit Life
California
Ceremony
The Southwest
Arts
The Plateau and Woodlands
Daily Life
The Northwest Coast and Alaska
Afterword
A Guide to the Photographs
Notes
Bibliography
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