CURTIS, Edward Sheriff (1868-1952). Prayer to the Mystery. [Pl. 91]. [Boston: D. Sacilotto for Charles Lauriat's: 1967]. Photogravure by Curtis, finely printed from the original plate, on wove paper watermarked "Tweedweave", by the master printmaker D. Sacilotto. A rare edition, not to be confused with later restrikes. A fine print, the beauty and quality of which rivals that of the original plates.(Small discreet collection stamp outside of plate mark on verso .) Very good condition apart from some mild rippling and light soiling in the top margin. Plate mark: 17 3/8 x 11 3/8 inches. Sheet size: 22 1/4 x 17 7/8 inches.
A breath-taking image from "The North American Indian", the grandest illustrated work ever produced in the United States, the most important illustrated work on American Indians, and the single greatest book in Western Americana.
As in the culture other Plains Indians, spirituality and religious ceremony were a central part of Lakota life. In addition to the important annual Sun Dance, the principal sacred rites included the Vision Quest, Making Relatives, Rite of Purification (Sweat Lodge), Keeping of the Soul, Preparing for Womanhood, and Throwing the Ball. The sacred pipe was an integral part these rites, which all centered around the veneration and invocation of the Great Mystery, Wakan Tanka, the ubiquitous supreme deity that created and governed the universe. The buffalo skull was also a fundamental element of many of these ceremonies. As the prime source of subsistence, buffalo were deemed sacred, and their skulls were frequently used as altars.
"In supplication the pipe was always offered to the Mystery by holding it aloft. At the feet of the worshipper lies a buffalo-skull, symbolic of the spirit of the animal upon which the Indians were so dependent. The subject of the picture is Picket Pin, an Ogalala Sioux." (Curtis, List of Large Plates Supplementing Volume Three) Picket Pin was a frequent fixture of the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and several photographs of him were included in Henry and Jean Hamilton's 1971 publication 'The Sioux Of the Rosebud' as well as Paul Dyck's 'Brule, Sioux People of the Rosebud' of the same year.
The original edition of Curtis' The North American Indian had 214 subscribers and Curtis himself handled the distribution. After Curtis declared bankruptcy, the booksellers Charles Lauriat's of Boston purchased the outstanding stock, and the edition from which this print comes was commissioned in order to complete a number of incomplete portfolios. According to information supplied by the printers, the edition was strictly limited with only 17 sets being produced.
Edward Curtis was fascinated with the story of the American Indian from an early age, honing both his knowledge of them and his skill as a photographer on numerous scientific expeditions in the 1890s. With the enthusiastic backing of President Theodore Roosevelt (who wrote the foreword), Curtis evolved his plan for a comprehensive work that would illustrate his romantic vision of American Indian life before the disastrous impact of European contact. What had originally been projected to take five or six years stretched to twenty-three, consumed $1,200,000 (a third in subsidy from the Morgans), and finally reached a conclusion in 1930, leaving Curtis a broken and bankrupt man. Nonetheless, he succeeded in accomplishing his grand design, and the set remains his monument.
Cf. Naef & Goldschmidt The Truthful Lens 40; cf. Howes C-965
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