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Edward S. Curtis papers, 1900-1978 (bulk 1903-1954)

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Curtis (Edward S.) papers

Scope and Content of Collection

The Edward S. Curtis papers document Curtis's major projects, focusing on his seminal publication, The North American Indian, the Curtis Picture Musicale, and his full-length feature film In the Land of the Head Hunters. The promotion and publication of these projects is particularly well-documented, and provides a picture of a highly-driven personality who well knew the importance of publicity in garnering financial support for his visionary projects.

Series I comprises manuscripts and publications and includes materials related to The North American Indian (1907-1930), typescripts for Curtis's books Indian Days of Long Ago (1914) and In the Land of the Head-hunters (1915; written after the film was made and with a slightly different title), and several undated, and apparently unpublished, typescripts for lectures or writings. The series is divided into three subseries.

Series I.A documents Curtis's efforts to promote The North American Indian, ranging from newspaper articles and reviews to publicity materials and subscription agreements. Also included are partial lists of photographs taken for the project and a list of photographs deposited for copyright.

Additional manuscript and publication materials including the typescripts for Curtis's books Indian Days of Long Ago and In the Land of the Head-hunters, as well as undated and apparently unpublished typescripts and notes, are found in Series I.B. Manuscript titles include "The Forgotten Map Maker," "Peyote Ceremony According to Charles More," "The Peyote Cult," and "The Indian and His Religious Freedom." These typescripts may in some cases relate to Curtis's lectures. Copies of a few articles published by Curtis and copies of published materials reproducing images by Curtis are found in Series I.C.

Series II documents Curtis's attempts to promote his photography and raise funds for NAI through photograph exhibitions, lectures, lantern slide shows, movies, picture musicales, and films. Starting around 1903, Curtis began giving exhibition talks and stereopticon lantern slide lectures during the months that he was not working in the field as a way to raise funds for his fieldwork. He lectured extensively in the eastern United States as well as in the Pacific Northwest. Series II.A. includes several undated lecture typescripts. They contain substantial information, based on first-hand observation, on the cultures of Northwest, Southwestern, Pueblo, and Plains indigenous American groups, and include such aspects as population, religious and cermonial practices, and daily life. Other lectures discuss his experiences in the field and the difficulty of financing research and publications.

The Curtis Picture Musicale (1911-1912) was a more ambitious money-raising scheme with a format based on the concept of a lantern slide lecture, a popular entertainment of the time. This elaborate multimedia production began with an orchestral prelude composed by Henry F. Gilbert. Curtis's lecture was accompanied by both hand-colored lantern slides and motion pictures, along with orchestral numbers composed by Gilbert for each segment. Included in Series II.B. are materials related to the Curtis Picture Musicale such as prospectuses, announcements, publicity materials, and programs for the production, as well as Gilbert's complete score for the musicale and additional related music by Gilbert.

Curtis also conceived of his film In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914), an epic story of love and war among the Kwakwaka'wakwa in pre-contact times, as a way to raise funds for his fieldwork and the NAI project. Included in Series II.C. are preliminary materials for the film such as typescript narratives regarding the genesis of the film, typescript prospectuses for the Continental Film Company, scripts for scenes, shooting schedules, a list of scenes shot in 1913, film stills, a movie poster, and John J. Braham's manuscript score for the film.

A small number of hand-colored and tinted lantern slides, such as would have been used by Curtis for his various slide lectures and presentations, comprise Series II.D. These are mostly Pacific Northwest Native American scenes, although a few Navajo and California Native American images are included.

The personal and professional documents in Series III include posthumous articles about Curtis and materials regarding the disposition of Curtis's manuscripts, recordings, and artifact collection. There are a few letters sent or received by Curtis and a few pieces of original artwork. Also included is a transcript of an interview with M. E. Magnuson, Curtis's son-in-law, conducted by Conrad Angore, G. Ray Hawkins, and a Mr. Lee, on 19 September 1978. The interview relates mostly to the dispersal of the Curtis collection of Native American artifacts.


Arranged in three series:
Series I: Manuscripts and publications, 1900-1935;
Series II: Lectures, presentations and audiovisual projects, 1903-1914, undated;
Series III: Personal and professional papers, 1908-1978.

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