Native Village 
Youth and Education News

November, 2012

Rare book fetches fortune at auction
Condensed by Native Village

New York: It is considered the most lavish and elegantly produced series of photography books ever made. This book -- Edward  S. Curtis' masterpiece, the North American Indian -- recently became the highest selling item ever at Swann Auction Galleries.

The 40 volume series sold for $1,440,000.  A glimpse at the stunning sepia-toned photographs shows why it was so desirable.

Curtis spent more than 30 years traveling the U.S., Alaska and Canada to photograph tribes. He produced more than 40,000 photographs. With intimate detail, he chronicles the customs, manners, rituals, songs, languages, and ceremonies of more than 80 tribes, setting them against the stunning landscapes of North America.

Stoic: Dub-chief Red Hawk of 'the Bad Lands of South Dakota', pictured1908

Refined: Curtis captured a member of the Apsaroke tribe in Montana in 1908.

Curtis was born in 1868 in Wisconsin. He built his first camera in his teens and at 19, set up his own business taking portraits after his family moved to Seattle.  But it was his breathtaking photographs of Native Americans living on the city's waterfront that garnered attention.  Curtis worked so well with the tribes that companies began hiring him to join expeditions to Alaska, Montana and other areas to photograph the tribes.

Curtis remembered traveling on horseback through Montana's mountains. At one point he emerged from the trees to see thousands of teepees in the valley floor below. At that moment, Curtis decided to devot his life's work to documenting the culture of Native Americans.

Curtis described his mission as an effort "to form a comprehensive and permanent record of all the important tribes of the United States and Alaska that still retain to a considerable degree their...customs and  traditions."

Extensive: Taken in Alaska in 1915, these masked Nakoaktok performers represent huge, mythical birds during the winter dance

Warrior: Pictured in 1905, Geronimo was a prominent leader of the Bedonkohe Apache tribe in New Mexico. He fought against Mexico and  the U.S. as they expanded into Apache lands before he surrendered to the U.S in  1886 and became a prisoner of war.

Curtis worked by himself or with assistants. His funding came from banking magnate J.  P. Morgan, private donations, and a hefty personal debt. His visits to tribes across North America led to 40,000 photos and more than 10,000 recordings of speech and music.

When Curtis's volumes were completed, his lifelong friend President Theodore Roosevelt wrote the forward of the work.

From the Library of Congress: Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian: Photographic Images

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