Hockaday Museum of Art

Kalispell, Montana

(406) 755-5268



Images of an Idyllic Past: The Photographs of Edward S. Curtis, and Barbara Candelaria - Rhythms with Nature

November 19, 1999 - February 12, 2000


"Images of an Idyllic Past: The Photographs of Edward S. Curtis" offers a unique view of the daily life, ceremonial rites, dress, and traditions of the American Indian as documented by Edward S. Curtis. His photographic masterwork, "The North American Indian," captured glimpses of more than 100 Indian nations who populated the U.S. and Canada west of the Mississippi River. Working in the early twentieth century - a time of tremendous change, growth, and challenge for Native Americans in the developing West - Curtis intended to "form a comprehensive and permanent record of all the important tribes" that still remained in the area. His project was recognized by President Teddy Roosevelt and sponsored in part by financier J.P. Morgan. Selections from this work, including images taken in Northwest Montana, are presented in the Hockaday's exhibit.



Edward Sherrif Curtis (1868-1952) began working with photography as a boy in Wisconsin, but it was in Seattle after 1887 that his images of Nootka and Muckleshoot men and women first earned him acclaim as a portrait photographer. Over the next several years, Curtis made trips to Alaska, Arizona, and Montana, photographing the Eskimo, Hopi, and Blackfoot people he met.

As he perfected his photographic techniques in these travels, Curtis's compassion for the people he met grew. He became convinced that his photographs could help others understand the traditional life and culture of Native Americans in the West. Many of the groups he visited were threatened by extinction, or if not, by pressures to assimilate into "modern" American society and abandon traditional beliefs and customs. Curtis believed that his photographs could help document and preserve their way of life before it disappeared.

The project that ultimately resulted was called "The North American Indian." Twenty volumes in all, it contains more than 2,200 photographs of tribes Curtis met throughout the Southwest, Northwest, and Pacific Coast. Images of Montana's Kalispel, Flathead, Blackfeet and Kutenai groups are well-covered in the volumes. More than just portraits, Curtis photographed images of daily life -- work, play, home. Because of his careful and considerate manner, Curtis was even allowed to photograph special ceremonies - including the Sun Dance of the Blackfeet.

Curtis's detailed observations about customs and culture attempted to provide background information for each image. But the strongest element of "The North American Indian" is clearly Curtis's sensitive portraiture. His beautiful images were recognized immediately as more than simple documentary pictures - they struck everyone who saw them as great works of art.

Curtis met and photographed many of the leaders of the day, from Princess Angeline, daughter of Chief Seattle, to Chief Joseph and Teddy Roosevelt. He traveled widely to lecture about his research and display his photographs. His work today forms a foundation for much of our familiarity with images of Native Americans in the West.



While hiking on Mount Rainier one day in 1898, Curtis rescued a group of lost hikers. As it happened, the group included writer/editor George Bird Grinnell. Grinnell was impressed by Curtis's photographic talent and his sincere interest in Native American culture. He arranged for Curtis to visit the Blackfeet reservation with him in 1900. That summer Curtis learned a great deal about the Blackfeet, even observing their sacred "Sun Dance" ceremony. By the end of his visit, and encouraged by Grinnell, Curtis was determined to begin "The North American Indian." He immediately returned to Seattle to begin organizing the project - one that would take twenty-five years to complete in full. He returned several times to Northwest Montana, working again with the Blackfeet and also with the area's Kalispel, Flathead, and Kutenai populations.



In 1904, Curtis portrait skills came to the attention of Theodore Roosevelt, who ultimately authored the forward to the portfolios of photographs that Curtis produced. Roosevelt also lent his support to the project by writing a letter of introduction to J.P. Morgan, under whose patronage the project was funded.

Curtis spent three decades recording on film and on paper as many tribes as he could find. He usually had an anthropologist or writer with him on his trips and sometimes even took his children with him. He lectured all over the country to keep his funding going, speaking for the National Geographic Society, National Academy of Science, Smithsonian Institute and other prestigious organizations, hoping to stir the imagination and financial generosity of wealthy patrons.

Although Curtis' project had a rather auspicious start, it took sixteen years longer than anticipated and exceeded the budget by nearly $1.4 million. In the end, Curtis bankrupted his marriage, his family life, his personal health, and his finances in order to realize his dream, but his achievement endures as a legacy to the heritage of the nation and to the family of man. His work has been collected by museums, libraries, and colleges and now enjoys a renaissance of public interest.


Also on exhibit through the same time period, "Rhythms With Nature" is a wondrous collection of paintings by Whitefish watercolor artist Barbara Candelaria (see left). Her plein-air artistry is exhibited in Montana galleries such as the Montana House in Glacier National Park and Kindred Spirits gallery in the Kalispell/Glacier Park International Airport.

About her work, Candelaria says, "Each of my paintings represents a dance through nature. Having a mutual meeting with a potential subject allows me to transform the environment into inspiration. By creating a harmony with the wonders of the wilderness through shape, light and color, I go beyond the visual experience, into the area of emotional response. Above all, the landscape is alive, I am alive and I try to keep my paintings alive." In addition to her "Rhythms with Nature" exhibit, the Hockaday Museum Shop this fall features a selection of the artist's "splendor of winter" prints and cards.


Read more about the Hockaday Museum of Art in Resource Library

For further biographical information on Edward S. Curtis please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 11/1/10

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