Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Heritage Partnership To Feature Never-before-Exhibited Edward Curtis Work

A new unpublished Edward Curtis exhibit featuring his works from the Great Plains Region is set to premiere at the Buena Vista Heritage Museum beginning Sunday, September 10. Buena Vista Heritage has partnered with the Curtis Legacy Foundation (CLF) to launch this exhibit to further their shared goals of history preservation and community education.

This is the world premier of the national tour of the new exhibit based on the book Edward S. Curtis: Unpublished Plains at the Buena Vista Heritage Museum (506 East Main Street) and it will run from September 10 through September 24.

Village Herald – Dakota 1907 by Edward Curtis

The exhibit will premier unpublished photographs and feature a variety of speakers to ensure that Native voices are heard alongside the images capturing their stories.

John and Colleen Graybill, founders of CLF, are local to Buena Vista and hope to give back to the community with the opening of the exhibit. John Graybill is Edward Curtis’ great-grandson.

The exhibit will feature more than a selection of photographs as it strives to blend aesthetic and educational experiences. Storyboards will accompany the photographs and offer descriptions of the different tribes represented plus commentary from various current Great Plains tribal citizens.

Native Voices Represented by Several Speakers

Calf Child Blackfoot 1926 by Edward Curtis. Image Courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art Collection.

Through the duration of the exhibit, CLF and Buena Vista Heritage will host several Native American speakers to share aspects of their cultures and traditions through a series of presentations held at the museum.

A sneak preview of the CLF’s Descendant Project is also included as part of the exhibit. Visitors will be able to hear stories directly from Native voices even when speakers are not present.

As Graybill explains it, the project began as an attempt to track down descendants of the Native Americans that Curtis had documented. It grew into a blend of Curtis’ twentieth-century photography with current technology to deliver the Native voices of today. Visitors will be able to use an application on their smartphone to scan portraits of these descendants to gain access to interview clips.

CLF and Buena Vista Heritage invite the public to explore Edward S. Curtis: Unpublished Plains September 10 through September 24. The full schedule of events for the exhibit is available on Buena Vista Heritage’s website.

Events will be held during museum hours (11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.) and are included with museum admission.

Evening events are free, except for Edward Curtis & Indigenous Voices. Tickets for that event can be acquired online.

Museum Hours

Wednesday through Monday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Tuesday: Closed

Event Schedule

Cheyenne Chiefs 1927 – Curtis Family Collection. Image courtesy of the Curtis Legacy Foundation.

6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Thursday, September 14: “Edward Curtis & Indigenous Voices: An Evening with Lakota Chiefs”

5:00 p.m. Friday, September 15: Book Signing

6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday, September 15: “Lakota Culture and Traditions” with Chief John Spotted Tail and Tamara Stands and Looks Back-Spotted Tail

11:00 a.m. Saturday, September 16: Children’s Storytime with Tamara Stands and Looks Back- Spotted Tail

3:00 p.m. Saturday, September 16: Book Signing

4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, September 16: “A New Way to Honor the Old Way” with Chief Henry Red Cloud

1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Sunday, September 17: Book Signing

6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Friday, September 22: “Edward Curtis – The Man, The Legacy” with Coleen and John Graybill, great-grandson of Edward Curtis

3:00 p.m. Saturday, September 23: Book Signing

4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, September 23: “Carrying the Curtis Legacy Forward – The Descendants Project” with Coleen and John Graybill, great-grandson of Edward Curtis

1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Sunday, September 24: Book Signing

History of Edward Curtis and the CLF

American settlers arrived in the Upper Arkansas Valley in the mid-1800s. They were quick to realize the area was rich with wildlife and the land relatively easy to farm. They were not the first to discover this.

Native Americans had already inhabited the  Upper Arkansas Valley for thousands of years. It was utilized as a summer hunting ground, and as a place for setting up camp year after year, generation after generation.

Yet the stories of these first inhabitants are often glossed over. Graybill points out that the education of non-natives about Native American history is fundamental in repairing that discrepancy and cultivating respect for Native Americans today. The partnership with Buena Vista Heritage furthers their shared goals of history preservation and community education.

Edward Curtis never realized the impact he would leave when he began photographing Indigenous People in the early 1900s. Curtis had only six years of classroom education and no formal training in art, history, science, or other academic disciplines. Despite this, he became one of the twentieth century’s most famous photographers and ethnologists.

He is best remembered today for his twenty-volume masterpiece The North American Indian, a publication that took nearly three decades to complete.

It is speculated that Curtis took 40,000 images. Only 2,234 of these images were included in his grand opus. Thousands of photographs did not make it into Curtis’ books and many were never seen by anyone other than the photographer and his assistant.

Unpublished, Crow, Image courtesy of the Curtis Legacy Foundation.

Many of these photographs were packed away; the boxes were stored in the back of closets or stashed in attics and basements as this piece of history was passed down through Curtis’ descendants.

When Edward Curtis’ great-grandson became their caretaker, he recognized their significance. Graybill believed that these images taken across North America, which range from Alaska to Oklahoma and encompass both special events and everyday life, had the potential to start conversations and provide a broad audience insight into often overlooked aspects of American history.

In the five years since the CLF was formed, they strive to use their collection as the basis of a platform upon which the voices of Native Americans can be amplified.

Edward Curtis said, “I know [the Indigenous People] have an innate distrust of the white man, which is understandable and particularly of photographers. Yet I feel a rapport with them, and I trust they sense my sincerity … Above all, the record must be accurate or it will be without value.”

The Foundation functions under similar goals today by working to provide Native American communities control of the narrative captured by Curtis’ photos. The dialogue started by Curtis’ photographs shapes the CLF’s present and future work.

According to the CLF, “The Board of Directors of the Curtis Legacy Foundation® respectfully acknowledges the Ute people, the original inhabitants of Colorado, and other Indigenous Nations of this area where our office in Colorado is located. We recognize that the establishment of this region impacted the lifeways of Native Peoples and their communities. In accepting this, we are called to utilize our foundation to teach stewardship of the land and continuing commitment to the inclusion and respect of these Nations and their traditional values for their homelands.”

Featured image: the Buena Vista Heritage Museum; the historic courthouse. AVV file photo.