Edward S. Curtis Redeemed

An underdog gets his due.

Edward S. Curtis was 31 when he made his self-portrait in Seattle, Washington, in 1899. In addition to the 40,000 photos he made during his North American Indian project, Curtis also made 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indigenous songs, music and ceremonies.
Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

All my life I have heard criticism of Edward Sheriff Curtis. He faked his photos, he didn’t do this, he had no business doing that. Here’s how Curtis described his life’s mission:

“I want to make them [American Indians] live forever. It’s such a big dream I can’t see it all. The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other…consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.”

Yes, and the dream ended up being so big it broke him financially, it ruined his marriage and it almost killed him physically. Still, he endured. It took him thirty years to finish, and in the end, he never made a dime out of the finished product.

And, yet, the end results speak for themselves. In this issue you will bear witness to a stunning record of a people who deserve to be remembered as righteous and proud. Thank you, Edward Sheriff Curtis. We love you, and hopefully in this special collectors’ issue we have proved it!

Our cover boy, Weasel Tail-Piegan, is part of a wonderful new exhibition at Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. “Light and Legacy: The Art and Techniques of Edward S. Curtis” opens on October 19, 2021. It is a stunning collection and includes audio recordings, photographs and even early motion pictures. We are here to tell you, it’s part of the reason we named the Scottsdale Museum of the West our top museum of 2021 (p. 74). A special shoutout to Mike Fox, Tricia Loscher, James Balestieri and the gang down at Western Spirit for making this a spectacular issue.

Assistant Director Dr. Tricia Loscher oversees the installation of the Curtis exhibit, while Associate Curator Anna Akridge and museum preparator Shawn Siems help hang a Curtis photograph for the show.
Photo by Ken Amorosano

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