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We Recommend — The Curtis Collection: A showcase of The North American Indian

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month, the Edward Curtis photographic collection will be on view for an exclusive showcase in the Rare Books Classroom on Thursday, November 18 from 4:00 – 6:00 PM. Space will be limited to 40 people and reservations will be required.

Reserve your spot by emailing Lyuba Basin at

The North American Indian is comprised of 2,232 photogravures taken between 1890 and 1930 and published between 1907 and 1930. A massive project, professional photographer Edward Curtis’ intention was to document every major tribe west of the Mississippi, portraying what he perceived to be a vanishing culture. While he was neither the first nor the last person to photograph the American Indian, he was surely the most prolific. His monumental publication presented to the public an extensive ethnographic study of numerous peoples.

The North American Indian consists of twenty portfolios of photogravures and twenty volumes of field notes bound with smaller gravures. A photogravure is made from a printing process utilizing a copper plate that is made from a glass positive which itself is made from a glass negative. The plate is hand wiped with sepia inks. Excess ink is removed and the plate is forced onto paper with a handpress, capturing all the etched details on the plate.

The photogravure produces a soft, atmospheric appearance similar to that achieved by French Impressionist painters. This photographic process, along with drawing and painting on negatives, platinotypes and gum prints, was popular at the end of the nineteenth century. The movement, known as “Pictorialism” was a way for photographers to add personal vision and expression to their works.

The portfolio gravures were printed on three different papers, Van Gelder, a watermarked paper, Vellum, a rice paper, and Tissue, Japanese handmade silk tissues. Forty of the original sets were printed on Tissue, the rest equally split between Van Gelder and Vellum. In 1937, the library acquired, through a special allotment of funds, the Edward Curtis volumes and plates of North American Indians for $3,500 – the twenty volume set is now held within the rare books collection.

The Curtis Collection
A showcase of Edward Curtis’
The North American Indian
Thursday, November 18 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm FULL
Friday, November 19 from 4:00 – 6:00 pm – NEW SESSION

Rare Books Classroom, Level 4
J. Willard Marriott Library
Registration required through email:

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