Edward S. Curtis. From The North American Indian. 626. “A Cree.” 1926. Photogravure by Suffolk Engraving Co. 15 1/4 x 11 3/8. On Japan vellum. Old mat burn.
Edward Sheriff Curtis began his career as a photographer at age seventeen in St. Paul Minnesota, moving two years later to Seattle, where he continued his profession. In 1895, he met and photographed Princess Angeline (Kikisoblu), a daughter of Chief Sealth or Seattle (Ts’ial-la-kum), after whom the city was named. This got Curtis interested in photographing Native Americans and he began to travel to record different tribal cultures. He soon developed the idea of documenting in a comprehensive publication North American tribes and began to seek funding. He received a letter of recommendation from Theodore Roosevelt, which led to his introduction to railroad magnate John Pierpoint Morgan, who committed to support the project. Curtis took to this project with enthusiasm, taking tens of thousands of photographs of 80 tribes. His intent was to document traditional Indian cultures, so he also recorded information on the languages, customs, and dress of the tribes and wrote biographical sketches of many of the tribal leaders.
The resulting publication, The North American Indian, was published between 1907 and 1930 and it consisted of 20 volumes with accompanying portfolios containing over 2,200 photogravures after his photographs. Each plate was hand inked and run through a press. Most sets were printed on a high grade “Holland” paper, though a few sets were printed on Japanese-made vellum and some on thin Japanese tissue-paper. A complete set of the portfolio eventually had 2,234 photogravures. The series was very expensive and did not sell that well, with only 272 of the proposed 500 sets issued.