In celebration of its 100th anniversary, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the McCracken Research Library are sponsoring a traveling exhibit of Edward S. Curtis’s photography. The exhibit, traveling to Wyoming libraries in 2017 and 2018, makes its first stop at the Park County Public Library in Cody starting Thursday, February 2, 6:30–8 p.m. for an opening reception. It remains on display during library hours through the end of the month.
The exhibit features pieces from Edward S. Curtis’s The North American Indian, a grand work that provides a permanent record of 80 North American tribes through ethnographic notes and more than 1,500 photographs included in 20 volumes. Accompanying the volumes were 20 portfolios with 36 photogravure prints each. A selection of these images in digital format will also 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 captured 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. Sadly, the Great Depression contributed to weak sales of the finished volumes, and only 214 of the 500 subscriptions were sold.
“The great goal of the monumental photographic achievement of Edward Curtis was to make the First Americans ‘live forever,'” says Timothy Egan, author of Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher. “Curtis, 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.”
Selections from Edward Curtis’s The North American Indian: A Traveling Exhibit to Wyoming Libraries is supported in part by an award from the Wyoming Arts Council through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts; as well as a grant from the Wyoming Arts Council, 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, which holds a rare complete set of The North American Indian.
Since 1917, the award-winning Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, has devoted itself to sharing the story of the authentic American West. The Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. For additional information, visit centerofthewest.org or the Center’s Facebook page.