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Edward S. Curtis Photo Exhibition on View at UW’s Coe Library

September 7, 2017
framed photos hanging on a wall
Photographs from Edward S. Curtis’s “The North American Indian” are on view through Saturday, Sept. 30, at UW’s Coe Library. (Shannon M. Smith Photo)

The photography of Edward S. Curtis is showcased in a traveling exhibition on view through Saturday, Sept. 30, in the Level 3 Gallery at the University of Wyoming’s Coe Library.

The exhibition, hosted by the Emmett D. Chisum Special Collections Library, features pieces from Curtis’s “The North American Indian” project. The work provides a permanent record of 80 North American Indian tribes through ethnographic notes and over 1,500 photographs included in 20 volumes. Accompanying the volumes were 20 portfolios, each containing 36 photogravure prints. A selection of these images in digital format also will be on display.

Curtis produced this unique American record at great personal sacrifice. Beginning in 1898, he traveled the American West from the Rio Grande to the Arctic Circle. Working with written accounts, photographic images and sound recordings, Curtis gathered and arranged the ethnographic data and took more than 40,000 photographs using only natural light.

The massive work was published between 1907 and 1930. The elegant volumes, with their stately folio plates, were printed on the finest handmade papers of the time. The Great Depression contributed to weak sales of the finished volumes, and only 214 of the 500 subscriptions were sold.

Timothy Egan, author of “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher,” says of the work: “The great goal of the monumental photographic achievement of Edward Curtis was to make the first American ‘live forever,’ as he said. This man, with his sixth-grade education and lifelong devotion to his subject, did just that. His pictures of all the tribes in the West are timeless, showing the humanity of a people who were too often stereotyped or forgotten.”

The exhibition is funded by a grant from the Wyoming Community Foundation’s Carol McMurry Donor Advised Fund in partnership with the McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, which holds a rare complete set of “The North American Indian.” To celebrate the center’s 100th anniversary (1917-2017), the exhibition will travel to Wyoming libraries this year and in 2018.

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