Martin Art Gallery
Edward S. Curtis
Mosa Mohave Girl (from The North
American Indian),, 1906
In 1896, American photographer Edward S. Curtis embarked upon one of the most ambitious projects in the history of photography, producing a comprehensive record of all of the available information on the Indians of North America. He traveled throughout North America documenting the various tribes on film in a manner consistent with the contemporary American photographic movement called Pictorialism.
After a decade of work, Curtis’ extensive project remained unfinished. Totally consumed by his photography, Curtis had depleted his own financial resources and, in 1906, sought a patron. He sparked the interest of both Teddy Roosevelt and J. P. Morgan. With Morgan’s backing, Curtis quickly resumed his field work, produced over 40,000 negatives and published his work, The North American Indian in 1930.
The series included 20 volumes of text on the lifestyle and traditions of over 80 tribes, 1,500 small format photogravures, 20 accompanying portfolios containing 723 large format photogravures, maps and diagrams. These visual documents provide insight into the rich cultural diversity of North America and also demonstrate the idealized nature of pictorialist photography popular around the turn of the century.
As a pictorialist, Curtis produced distinctly decorative photographic prints that incorporated subtle tonalities and simplicity of composition as evident in the Mosa Mohave Girl from 1906. He selected picturesque individuals mainly women and the elderly in striking poses and ornate costumes, exhibiting the individualism and pride of all native people.
Curtis published 272 of an intended 500 sets of The North American Indian between 1907 and 1930. Muhlenberg owns a complete set, number 135 of 272. Today, only 12 of the original 272 sets remain intact and Muhlenberg is fortunate to own and have preserved one. The set was a gift from General Harry C. Trexler in 1930.
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