Scottsdale museum mounts groundbreaking Edward S. Curtis exhibition

Edward S. Curtis, ‘Medicine Crow,’ 1909, goldtone. Peterson Family Collection.

Edward S. Curtis, ‘Medicine Crow,’ 1909, goldtone. Peterson Family Collection.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (SMoW) is now hosting a remarkable exhibition celebrating the life and works of photographer-ethnographer Edward Curtis, titled Light and Legacy: The Art and Techniques of Edward S. Curtis. It opened on October 19, 2021 and will run through April 30, 2023.

At the close of the 19th century, many Indigenous peoples in the United States continued to adhere to traditional ways of life despite the tremendous pressures of modernity. Visionary photographer Edward Curtis saw the importance of honoring these people on film.

Edward S. Curtis, ‘An Oasis in the Badlands,’ 1905, silver bromide border photograph, 5 ½ in by 7 ¾ in. Peterson Family Collection.

Edward S. Curtis, ‘An Oasis in the Badlands,’ 1905, silver bromide border photograph, 5 ½ in by 7 ¾ in. Courtesy of the Peterson Family Collection.

During three decades, Curtis created thousands of images, audio recordings and the earliest motion pictures of Native peoples, all while making tremendous contributions to the art and science of photography.

Edward S. Curtis, ‘Piegan,’ c. 1910, cyanotype on paper, 6in by 8in. Peterson Family Collection.

Edward S. Curtis, ‘Piegan,’ c. 1910, cyanotype on paper, 6in by 8in. Peterson Family Collection.

Assistant Director for Collections, Exhibitions and Research, and Co-Curator of the exhibition, Dr. Tricia Loscher, stated, “Based upon years of collecting Curtis’s artwork, Tim Peterson, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West’s Trustee and Western art collector, has used his discerning eye in helping to curate this exhibition. On display are photogravures; original copper plates; orotones; platinum prints; silver bromides; silver gelatins; cyanotypes; glass plate negatives; and recordings of Native music.”

Edward S. Curtis, ‘The Three Chiefs,’ albumen photograph, 11 ¼ in by 15 ½ in. Peterson Family Collection.

Edward S. Curtis, ‘The Three Chiefs,’ albumen photograph, 11 ¼ in by 15 ½ in. Peterson Family Collection.

Tim Peterson himself added, “The exhibition lays out in two parts. In the first, at least four portraits, one dwelling, and four to six cultural images from each of the first 20 volumes of The North American Indian will be featured. Curtis was a master at using various photographic techniques and materials, and the second half of the exhibition honors his skill. Bottles of the minerals he used to develop his prints, as well as a camera of the kind he traveled with will be on display.”

 Edward S. Curtis, ‘The Oath,’ 1909, copperplate. Peterson Family Collection.


Edward S. Curtis, ‘The Oath,’ 1909, copperplate. Peterson Family Collection.

Pulitzer Prize recipient, Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday observed: “Taken as a whole, the work of Edward Curtis is a singular achievement. Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession.”

Visit the website of Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (SMoW) and see its dedicated page for Light and Legacy: The Art and Techniques of Edward S. Curtis.