Portraits of North American Indians

The Edward Curtis 1920's collection of photographs of the North American Indians is one of the largest photographic archives ever compiled by a single artist and probably the most profound representation of pure Indian culture ever produced.

The plates on vellum and tissue in this exhibition are excellent examples of Curtis's skilled recordings of significant aspects of Indian culture in modernized Indian nations. They also constitute a testimony to his ability to break down barriers that had heretofore prevented outsiders from establishing working relationships with the native populations.

Among the Santo Domingo Indians, for example, contentment was based on an inverse relationship to the amount of contact the pueblo had to have with the white race. Curtis, however, not only established contact, but also recorded the people and the pueblo for posterity. Among the most moving and remarkable images in the Curtis collection are the many portraits of the Indians whom he met during his study. Inherent in these portraits of old Pomo women and warriors of many tribes is a sense of spiritual loss that a way of life was about to vanish. The pride resonating from the faces of the Sia Buffalo Dancer and Jamez Fiscal is tempered by an awareness of the inevitable impact of social change. The same kind of mixed emotion can be felt when one views "Iahla (Willow-Taos)" and "Francisca Chiwiwi-Isleta." These and other portraits in this display capture the dignity of a people and cannot but impress audiences with the grandeur that has been lost.