Edward Curtis: Printing the Legends

by Dr. Larry Len Peterson, Dr. Brian W. Dippie, John Taliaferro

If you think you know the Curtis story, think again. This landmark publication is not only packed with stunning illustrations but also astounding discoveries about Curtis’s life. For example, the 1898 perpetually repeated legend of Curtis rescuing George Bird Grinnell and other famed scientists on Mount Rainier actually never happened. Grinnell was thousands of miles away. Clearly, genius loves company. One of the main focuses of this book is to contextualize Curtis’s life in the cultures in which he and his subjects lived.

Curtis fell in love with Native Americans and was captivated by Pictorialism, photography inspired by Romanticism where beautiful people were captured in beautiful settings, which made the picture appear to be like a painting. Art for art’s sake was the aim. The end result of his passion and unequaled drive was The North American Indian TNAI), a twenty-volume portfolio and book set with over 2,200 photogravures and 2.5 million words of scholarly, ethnographic text on eighty Western tribes. His efforts were supernatural. From 1896 when he took a picture of Princess Angeline, eldest daughter of Chief Seattle, to the final journey to Alaska to photograph the Inuit in 1927, Curtis compiled the greatest photojournalistic publication in American history, TNAI (1907-1930). Over 10,000 Indigenous people proudly participated. And during that span he had countless grand adventures and stupendous failures, but he never gave up. In contrast to Curtis, other visual artists of his era focused almost entirely on a dozen tribes or so on the Northern Plains and in the Southwest. That’s because those regions were promoted by the railways, which generated patrons. Their tasks were easy compared to Curtis’s. That said, one of his greatest contributions was bringing other Western American, Alaskan, and Canadian tribes to the forefront so they could also be showcased.

This publication is a deep dive into Curtis’s life and works that is at once intimate and panoramic. With over 250 illustrations and a 150,000-word text, the reader will learn why Curtis stands proudly on top of the pantheon of Western American artists. We will be speaking his and his Native American friend’s names for generations to come.

Hardback: 472 pages