Edward Sheriff Curtis(in english)
Edward Curtis was born near Whitewater, Wisconsin. Curtis' father, the Reverend Johnson Asahel Curtis (1840–1887), was a minister and an American Civil War veteran. Rev. Curtis was born in Ohio. Rev. Curtis' father was born in Canada, and his mother in Vermont. Edward's mother, Ellen Sheriff (1844–1912), was born in Pennsylvania; and both her parents were born in England. Curtis' siblings were Raphael Curtis (1862-c1885), who also was called Ray Curtis; Eva Curtis (1870-?); and Asahel Curtis (1875–1941).,.
Around 1874 the family moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota. Curtis dropped out of school in the sixth grade. He soon built his own camera. In 1880 the family lived in Cordova Township, Minnesota, where Johnson Curtis worked as a retail grocer.
In 1885 at the age of seventeen Edward became an apprentice photographer in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1887 the family moved to Seattle, Washington, where Edward purchased a new camera and became a partner in an existing photographic studio with Rasmus Rothi. Edward paid $150 for his 50 percent share in the studio. After about six months, Curtis left Rothi and formed a new partnership with Thomas Guptill. The new studio was called Curtis and Guptill, Photographers and Photoengravers.
In 1892 Edward married Clara J. Phillips (1874–1932), who was born in Pennsylvania. Her parents were from Canada. Together they had four children: Harold Curtis (1893-?); Elizabeth M. (Beth) Curtis (1896–1973), who married Manford E. Magnuson (1895–1993); Florence Curtis (1899–1987) who married Henry Graybill (1893-?); and Katherine (Billy) Curtis (1909-?).
In 1896 the entire family moved to a new house in Seattle. The household then included Edward's mother, Ellen Sheriff; Edward's sister, Eva Curtis; Edward's brother, Asahel Curtis; Clara's sisters, Susie and Nellie Phillips; and Nellie's son, William.
In 1895 Curtis met and photographed Princess Angeline (c1800-1896) aka Kickisomlo, the daughter of Chief Sealth of Seattle. This was to be his first portrait of a Native American. In 1898 while photographing Mt. Rainier, Curtis came upon a small group of scientists. One of them was George Bird Grinnell, an expert on Native Americans. Both Grinnell and Curtis were invited on the famous Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899. Grinnell became interested in Curtis' photography and invited him to join an expedition to photograph the Blackfeet Indians in Montana in the year 1900.
The North American Indian
In 1906 J.P. Morgan offered Curtis $3,000 to produce a series on the North American Indian. It was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs. Morgan was to receive 25 sets and 500 original prints as his method of repayment. 222 complete sets were eventually published. Curtis' goal was not just to photograph, but to document, as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared. He wrote in the introduction to his first volume in 1907: "The information that is to be gathered ... respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost." Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music. He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes. He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only recorded history. This work was exhibited at the Rencontres d'Arles festival (France) in 1973.
The family had moved to Seattle in 1910. On October 16, 1916, Clara filed for divorce. In 1919 she was granted the divorce and received the Curtis' photographic studio and all of his original camera negatives as her part of the settlement. Edward went with his daughter, Beth, to the studio and destroyed all of his original glass negatives, rather than have them become the property of his ex-wife, Clara. Clara went on to manage the Curtis studio with her sister, Nellie M. Phillips (1880-?), who was married to Martin Lucus (1880-?). In 1920 Beth Curtis and her sister Florence Curtis were living in a boarding house in Seattle. Clara was living in Charleston, Kitsap County, Washington with her sister Nellie and her daughter Katherine Curtis.
Around 1922 Curtis moved to Los Angeles with his daughter Beth, and opened a new photo studio. To earn money he worked as an assistant cameraman for Cecil B. DeMille and was an uncredited assistant cameraman in the 1923 filming of The Ten Commandments. On October 16, 1924 Curtis sold the rights to his ethnographic motion picture In the Land of the Head-Hunters to the American Museum of Natural History. He was paid $1,500 for the master print and the original camera negative. It had cost him over $20,000 to film.
In 1927 after returning from Alaska to Seattle with his daughter Beth, he was arrested for failure to pay alimony over the preceding 7 years. The total owed was $4,500, but the charges were dropped. For Christmas of 1927, the family was reunited at daughter Florence's home in Medford, Oregon. This was the first time since the divorce that Curtis was with all of his children at the same time, and it had been thirteen years since he had seen Katherine. In 1928, desperate for cash, Edward sold the rights to his project to J.P Morgan's son. In 1930 he published the concluding volume of The North American Indian. In total about 280 sets were sold of his now completed opus magnum. In 1930 his ex-wife, Clara, was still living in Seattle operating the photo studio with their daughter Katherine. His other daughter, Florence Curtis, was still living in Medford, Oregon with her husband Henry Graybill. After Clara died of heart failure in 1932, his daughter Katherine moved to California to be closer to her father and her sister Beth.
Loss of rights to The North American Indian
In 1935 the Morgan estate sold the rights and remaining unpublished material to the Charles E. Lauriat Company in Boston for $1,000 plus a percentage of any future royalties. This included 19 complete bound sets of The North American Indian, thousands of individual paper prints, the copper printing plates, the unbound printed pages, and the original glass-plate negatives. Lauriat bound the remaining loose printed pages and sold them with the completed sets. The remaining material remained untouched in the Lauriat basement in Boston until they were rediscovered in 1972.[3
Death and burial
On October 19, 1952, at the age of 84, Curtis died of a heart attack in Whittier, California in the home of his daughter, Beth. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His terse obituary appeared in The New York Times on October 20, 1952:
|“||Edward S. Curtis, internationally known authority on the history of the North American Indian, died today at the home of a daughter, Mrs. Bess Magnuson. His age was 84. Mr. Curtis devoted his life to compiling Indian history. His research was done under the patronage of the late financier, J. Pierpont Morgan. The foreward [sic] for the monumental set of Curtis books was written by President Theodore Roosevelt. Mr. Curtis was also widely known as a photographer.||”|
Curtis archive at the Library of Congress
The Prints and Photographs Division Curtis collection consists of more than 2,400 silver-gelatin, first generation photographic prints — some of which are sepia-toned — made from Curtis's original glass negatives. Most are 5 by 7 inches (13 × 18 cm) although nearly 100 are 11 by 14 inches (28 × 36 cm) and larger; many include the Curtis file or negative number within the image at the lower left-hand corner.
The Library of Congress acquired these images through copyright deposit from about 1900 through 1930. The dates on them reflect date of registration, not when the photographs were taken. About two-thirds (1,608) of these images were not published in the North American Indian volumes and therefore offer a different and unique glimpse into Curtis's work with indigenous cultures. The original glass plate negatives which had been stored and nearly forgotten in the basement of New York's Morgan Library were dispersed during World War II. Many others were destroyed and some were sold as junk.
Charles Lauriat archive
Around 1970, Karl Kernberger of Santa Fe, New Mexico went to Boston to search for Curtis' original copper plates and photogravures at the Charles E. Lauriat rare bookstore. He discovered almost 285,000 original photogravures as well as all the original copper plates. With Jack Loeffler and David Padwa, they jointly purchased all of the surviving Curtis material that was owned by Charles Emelius Lauriat (1874–1937). The collection was later purchased by another group of investors led by Mark Zaplin of Santa Fe. The Zaplin Group owned the plates until 1982, when they sold them to a California group led by Kenneth Zerbe, the current owner of the plates as of 2005.
Peabody Essex Museum
Dr. Charles Goddard Weld purchased 110 prints that Curtis had made for his 1905-1906 exhibit and donated them to the Peabody Essex Museum, where they remain. The 14" by 17" prints are each unique and remain in pristine condition. Clark Worswick, curator of photography for the museum, describes them as:
"...Curtis' most carefully selected prints of what was then his life’s work...certainly these are some of the most glorious prints ever made in the history of the photographic medium. The fact that we have this man’s entire show of 1906 is one of the minor miracles of photography and museology