1868

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1868

On February 16 Edward S. Curtis is born near Whitewater, Wisconsin.  His Father is Johnson Asahel Curtis, a preacher and mother is Ellen Sheriff Curtis. Siblings: Rafael Curtis (1862-1912); Eva Curtis (1870-?); Asahel Curtis (1875-1941)

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1880

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1880

The Curtis family moves to Cordova, Minnesota.  Curtis’ father begins preaching for United Brethren Church, which sends him out into the countryside to preach.  Edward accompanies his father on these trips where they share a love of outdoor life.Using a lens his father brought back from the Civil War, Edward builds his first camera at age 12 with the help of the Wilson’s Photographics manual. Photochrome of St. Paul, MN 1898. Courtesy of Christopher Cardozo Photochrome Archive, Detroit Photographic Company.

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1885

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At the age of seventeen Edward spent time as an apprentice photographer in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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1887

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His father’s worsening health mandated that the family move to a more temperate climate, and they chose the booming Pacific Northwest.  After Edward and his father settle in Washington territory, his mother, brother and sister join them. Three days after their arrival, Johnson dies of pneumonia.  Rafael remains in Minnesota, eventually moving to Portland but quite separately from the rest of the family.

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1890

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1890

Edward injures his back while working in a lumberyard and is nursed back to health by Clara Philips, a neighbor who later becomes his wife. Soon after recovering Edward buys a view camera. Edward Sheriff Curtis antique camera c. 1902 accompanied by a certificate of authenticity signed by Manford Magnuson. Century field camera Century tag on inside of camera case Agfa tag on tripod camera as shown: 11″w x 15.5″h tripod as shown: 31″w x 44″h  

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1891

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Curtis buys a $150 share in a photography studio with Rasmus Rothi and opens “Rothi and Curtis, Photographers”.

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1892

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1892

Edward leaves the Rothi partnership and forms a new studio with Thomas Guptill. Curtis and Guptill soon becomes the premiere photographic portrait studio in Seattle. Both develop a reputation for portraits and landscapes. Curtis marries Clara Phillips. They have four children.  Harold Curtis (1899 – 1988); Elizabeth M. Curtis (1896-1973); Florence Curtis (1899-1987) who married Henry Graybill; and Katherine Curtis a.k.a. Billy (1909-Unknown)  

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1895

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1895

Curtis meets and photographs Princess Angeline (a.k.a. Kickisomlo), the daughter of Chief Sealth (Seattle), for whom Seattle was named. 

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1896

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1896

Curtis, along with Thomas Guptill, his studio partner, wins bronze medal at National Photographers Convention in Chautauqua, NY (Argus magazine declares them the leading photographers in Seattle.) Agus Magazine December, 14, 1896 Advertisement Extolling Curtis & Guptill Studio: One of the greatest examples of business energy and perseverance to e found in Seattle.

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1897

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1897

  Curtis becomes the sole-owner of the photographic studio, now named “Edward S. Curtis, Photographer and Photoengraver”. Curtis begins leading climbing expeditions on Mount Rainier, sponsored by Portland’s Mazamas club. The expedition included some renowned climbers,  Philemon Beecher Van Trump and Hazard Stevens. This was where Curtis met Ella McBride, who later became his assistant and manager of his studio.

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1898

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1898

While on an expedition on Mount Rainier, Curtis rescues a group of hikers, including noted anthropologist George Bird Grinnell, Chief of US Biological Survey Clinton Hart Merriam and Chief of US Forestry Department Gifford Pinchot.

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1898

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1898

Curtis wins the grand prize and a gold medal in genre class at National Photographic Convention in Chautauqua, NY for his image “Homeward.”

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1899

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1899

Ella McBride, Curtis, and a group of climbers from the Mount Rainer expeditions formed a group of concerned citizens who lobbied for the preservation of Rainier until it was made a National Park in 1899. Based on his acquaintance with C. Hart Merriam, Curtis is appointed official photographer for the Harriman Alaska Expedition. From this experience, Curtis produced a souvenir album for the participants.

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1900

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1900

1900 Curtis accompanies George Bird Grinnell to the Piegan Reservation in northwest Montana to photograph the Sun Dance ceremony of the Blackfoot Indians.  He then travels to Arizona to photograph the Snake Dance of the Hopi Indians.  This is the beginning of what would become his life’s work; photographing and publishing The North American Indian, a project that entailed documenting the culture of all the remaining Native American tribes west of the Mississippi river. Curtis sells his engraving business and takes over the studio of Frank La Roche, another famous photographer of Alaska and the American Indians.

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1900

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1900

Orotone (or goldtone) photographs begin to be produced by the Curtis Studio. These are glass plate positive photographs with a remarkably luminous quality obtained by printing a reversed image on glass and then backing it with a mixture of powered gold pigment and banana oil. They are then housed in very ornately molded and gilded frames. The process is perfected by the Curtis Studio and given the name…

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1904

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1904

After seeing Curtis’ winning photograph of Marie Octavia Fischer in “The Prettiest Children in American” contest, published in Ladies’ Home Journal, Walter Russell, a noted portrait painter, invites Curtis to photograph Theodore Roosevelt’s sons.  These photographs were to serve as models for the portraits Russell would later paint.  It is during this meeting that Roosevelt encourages Curtis to continue with The North American Indian project. June – Women’s Century Club in Seattle sponsors the First Annual Exhibition & Sale of the Industrial & Allied Arts of Washington and Curtis is honored with a solo exhibition at the venue. December – Curtis has an…

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1905

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1905

Curtis has the opportunity to photograph Geronimo during a visit to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where he makes his historic image of the aged leader.  Geronimo is in Washington, D.C. on the occasion of Roosevelt’s Inaugural parade.

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1905

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1905

April – Curtis holds fund-raising exhibitions in cities along the East Coast. Curtis has his first photographic exhibit in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Louisa Satterlee, daughter-in-law of financier J. P. Morgan, purchases some Curtis photographs at the exhibit in New York City.  Curtis also exhibits at the Washington Club and the Cosmos Club.  During this time, President Roosevelt sees Curtis’ Indian photographs and later helps Curtis meet with J. P. Morgan. Dr. Charles Goddard Weld purchased 108 prints…

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1906

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1906

January – Curtis secures funds from J. P. Morgan(on the left), with support from President Theodore Roosevelt, for the fieldwork to produce a twenty volume illustrated text of American Indians, The North American Indian, to be completed in five years. Curtis photographs Alice Roosevelt’s wedding to Nicholas Longworth.  

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1906

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1906

April – Curtis hires William Myers, a Seattle newspaper reporter and stenographer, to act as his field assistant. He is soon amazed at Myers’ astonishing skills at phonetics, which becomes invaluable in translating Indian language and song. August – After making persistent inquiries for six years, Shipaulovi Snake Priest Sikyaletstiwa initiates Curtis into the Hopi Snake Dance religious society. He becomes the first and perhaps the only white man to date to experience all aspects of this sixteen-day…

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1907

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1907

First volume of The North American Indian is published, with a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt.

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1911

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1911

Curtis breaks his hip and suffers life-long limp while filming a Kwakiutl whale hunt on the Northwest Coast. Curtis is slapped by the whale’s tail as he directs canoe paddlers to move closer for a better shot of the whale. The canoe and camera sink as Kwakiutl whalers rescue Curtis.

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1911

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1911

The Curtis Picture Musicale, a means of raising much needed funds, is performed extensively throughout the east coast, including Carnegie Hall, in New York City, and the Brooklyn Institute.

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1912-1914

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1912-1914

To raise money for the Project, Curtis spends $75,000 making a full-length film about Kwakiutl culture.  Titled, “In The Land of the Headhunters”, the film is released in 1914 and is a commercial failure. After 5 years, only 8 of the planned twenty volumes are completed. Article in Photographic Times “Writing History with the Camera”  

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1913

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1913

From a letter from Edward Curtis to the offices of J.P. Morgan: I have made about every sacrifice a human being can fore the sake of the work, and the work was worth it … J.P. Morgan dies, but his son J.P.Morgan JR. decides to continue funding The North American Indian.  

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1914

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“In the Land of the Headhunters” premiers at Casino Theatre, NY.

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1915

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 With 10 volumes of The North American Indian published, U.S. enters World War I. Interest in the project wanes, delaying publication of additional volumes for eight years. Curtis signs a yearlong contract with Frank Leslie’s Magazine “Beauty Spots of America.”

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1916

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Curtis’ wife Clara files for divorce.  In the settlement, she receives the studio and all the negatives. Before turning the studio over to Clara, Curtis’ daughter Beth and two assistants copy some of the glass plate negatives and then apparently destroy all of the originals, in an attempt to prevent Clara from profiting from the Indian pictures.

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1919

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Curtis and his daughter Beth move to Los Angeles and open a new Curtis Studio in the Biltmore Hotel.

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1920

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1920

Curtis finances fieldwork for finishing The North American Indian by doing studio work and working in Hollywood as a still photographer and movie camera operator.  Curtis assists Cecil B. Demille with the Ten Commandments.   

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1922

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1922

Volume 12 published  

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1923

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Curtis helped to found the Indian Welfare League along with Marah Ellis Ryan, Dr. John Adams Comstock, and Ida May Adams.  The League worked primarily as a charitable organization for Indians: finding work, providing legal services, and raising funds.  They eventually became political and took credit for successfully passing the Indian Citizenship Act of April 1924, which extended US citizenship…

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1924

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1924

Curtis lectures in Santa Fe, NM at a new anthropological museum.  In his lecture he summarized current issues affecting the North American Indian.  He began his lecture with the image “The Vanishing Race” and outlined the activities of the Indian Welfare League.

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1927

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1927

Curtis travels to Alaska to document the native Eskimo tribes,  that trip culminates three decades of fieldwork.  

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1930

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1930

The last volume of The North American Indian is published.

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1930-1932

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Curtis is apparently hospitalized in a Denver clinic for exhaustion and depression.

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1931

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With the country in the depths of the Great Depression, there is little interest in the work and it sinks into obscurity.  By this time Curtis has lost all financial interest in The North American Indian and the corresponding copyrights.

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1935

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1935

The Morgan family sells all materials remaining from The North American Indian project, including photogravure plates and complete and partially finished volumes to the Charles Lauriat Company, a rare book dealer in Boston. Curtis turns his attention to gold mining and farming. Curtis works on Cecil B. DeMille’s film, “The Plainsman”, shooting stills and motion picture film. 

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1940

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During the 1940’s, Curtis works on a book about sea otters and another about gold mining.

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1952

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1952

October 21, 1952 – Curtis dies in Los Angeles at the age of 84 of a heart attack at the home of his daughter, Beth.  Edward Curtis is buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood Hills, Ca.  In its seventy-six-word obituary, The New York Times, while stating that Curtis was famous worldwide as an ethnographer of North American Indians, it noted only in passing that he also had been a photographer.  

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1971

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1971

Original copper photogravure plates for the North American Indian project are discovered at Lauriat Bookstore and sold to a group of investors.

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1972

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1972

Bill Holm and George Quimby, both of the Thomas Burke Memorial Museum at the University of Washington, find and restore the only surviving print of Curtis’ 1914 motion picture “In the Land of the Head-Hunters”. A new score of original music is added and performed by members of the Kwakiutl tribe.  It is renamed “In the Land of the War Canoes: A Drama of Kwakiutl Life”.  In 1999 the original film was deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

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1982

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1982

Florence Graybill Curtis, one of Curtis’ daughters, publishes a distinguished history of her father, which is still in print.

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1982 – Present

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Numerous Curtis books, articles and exhibitions, nationally and internationally, are produced.  Curtis’ work is exhibited in over 80 countries and books are published internationally in at least five languages.  Edward S. Curtis becomes one of the most well-known and widely exhibited and collected photographers in the history of the medium.

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