The Monumental Work of Edward S. Curtis with Large Format Photogravures, Portfolio 1 of The North American IndianEdward S. Curtis. The North American Indian, Portfolio 1; The Large Plates Supplementing Volume One of The North American Indian. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Edward S. Curtis, 1907.
Portfolio one, complete with all thirty-nine large-format photogravures on Holland Van Gelder paper after photographs by Curtis. Comprising large folio plates 1-39. Each plate printed on Van Gelder Holland with letterpress copyright credit, title, plate numbers and John Andrew & Son printer's credit (in the margin). With the printed plate list. One in the proposed edition of 500 (it is believed that only 272 sets overall were ever completed and published). Image area measures approximately 15.5 x 11 inches or the reverse (some larger), sheets measure approximately 22 x 18 inches.
Plates loose as issued in a gilt-numbered brown three-quarter morocco portfolio with flaps and ties (one tie lacking), with the number "1" stamped in gilt on the front cover. Portfolio with miscellaneous bumps, scuffs and scratches, and some discoloration to the boards, small split to leather at the bottom of the front joint. Plates separated by archival tissue or paper. Plates with small pencil note on the rear lower right corner: "ESC - 10936." Each plate with small unobtrusive ink stamp to rear (not visible from front): "Hill Reference Library, St. Paul" and with similar perforated library stamp to the bottom of the printed plate list. Penciled library call numbers to the rear of the plate list, with "Curtis, Edward S." in pencil on the front of the plate list, along with penciled checkmarks on numbers for each plate. There is light offsetting to the backs of some plates. Some plates with small pin-holes in the corners. Altogether a wonderful example of this, the first portfolio from Curtis, that includes many iconic images such as "The Vanishing Race--Navaho" which Curtis chose to be the first image in the series because it expressed so well his thoughts that inspired the work.
The North American Indian was published, between 1907 and 1930, as twenty quarto volumes with photogravures and text, each volume supplemented by a portfolio of large-format examples of the images.
Edward Sheriff Curtis was born in Wisconsin in 1868, and while still a boy, moved with his family to a rural area of Minnesota where he learned to enjoy outdoor life and began his lifelong fascination with American Indians. By 1888 his family had relocated to Washington Territory, settling in the Puget Sound, shortly after which Curtis' father passed away, leaving Edward to assume responsibility for supporting the family. 1892 saw Curtis marry Clara Phillips and open a photography studio in Seattle with Thomas Guptill, a successful partnership that lasted until 1897 when Curtis continued the business on his own. In the mid-1890s he began to photograph local Native Americans and won the grand prize at the National Photographic convention in 1899. Curtis made invaluable connections while working as a photographer on a series of scientific and surveying expeditions, and between the years 1899 and 1906 he met railroad tycoon Edward Harriman, President Theodore Roosevelt, and J. P. Morgan, whom Curtis had approached to finance The North American Indian project at the outset. Over the next twenty-five years, Curtis would struggle to finish his monumental project. He finally published the 19th and 20th volumes in 1930, by which time he is believed to have created more than 40,000 negatives.
Theodore Roosevelt was impressed with Curtis' work and continued to encourage him throughout his career, writing: "Because of the singular combination of qualities with which he has been blessed, and because of his extraordinary success in making and using his opportunities, [Curtis] has been able to do what no other man has done; what, as far as we can see, no other man could do. He is an artist who works out of doors and not in a closet. He is a close observer, whose qualities of mind and body fit him to make his observations out in the field, surrounded by the wildlife he commemorates. He has lived on intimate terms with many different tribes of the mountains and plains. He knows them as they hunt, as they travel, as they go about their various avocations on the march and in camp. He knows their medicine men and their sorcerers, their chiefs and warriors, their young men and maidens. He has not only seen their vigorous outward existence, but has caught glimpses, such as few white men ever catch, into that strange spiritual and mental life of theirs; from whose inner most recesses all white men are forever barred" (Theodore Roosevelt, in his Foreword to Volume I of The North American Indian).
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