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Edward Sherrif Curtis, Photographer
(February 16, 1868 – October 19, 1952) was an ethnologist and photographer of the American West and of Native American peoples.


Edward Curtis was born on a farm near Whitewater, Wisconsin. His father, the Reverend Asahel "Johnson" Curtis was a minister, farmer, and American Civil War veteran born in Ohio. His mother, Ellen Sheriff was born in Pennsylvania. Curtis's siblings were Raphael, Edward, Eva and Asahel. Weakened by his experiences in the Civil War, Johnson Curtis had difficulty in managing his farm, resulting in hardship and poverty for his family.

Around 1874 the family moved from Wisconsin to Minnesota to join Johnson Curtis's father, Asahel Curtis, who ran a grocery store and was a postmaster in Le Sueur County. Curtis left school in the sixth grade and soon built his own camera.


In 1885 at the age of seventeen Edward became an apprentice photographer in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1887 the family moved to Seattle, Washington, where Edward purchased a new camera and became a partner in an existing photographic studio with Rasmus Rothi. Edward paid $150 for his 50 percent share in the studio. Princess Angeline of the Duwamish, 1896After about six months, Curtis left Rothi and formed a new partnership with Thomas Guptill. The new studio was called Curtis and Guptill, Photographers and Photoengravers.

In 1895 Curtis met and photographed Princess Angeline, aka Kickisomlo, the daughter of Chief Sealth of Seattle. This was to be his first portrait of a Native American. In 1898, three of Curtis' images were chosen for an exhibition sponsored by the National Photographic Society. Two were images of Princess Angeline, "The Mussel Gatherer", and "The Clam Digger". The other was of the Puget Sound, titled "Homeward". The latter was awarded the exhibition's grand prize and a gold medal. In that same year, while photographing Mt. Rainier, Curtis came upon a small group of scientists. One of them was George Bird Grinnell, an expert on Native Americans. Curtis was appointed Official Photographer to the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, probably as a result of his friendship with George Bird Grinnell. Having very little formal education Curtis learned much during the lectures that were given aboard the ship each evening of the voyage. Grinnell became interested in Curtis' photography and invited him to join an expedition to photograph the Blackfeet Indians in Montana in the year 1900.


In 1906 J. P. Morgan provided Curtis with $75,000 to produce a series on the North American Indian. This work was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs. Morgan's funds were to be disbursed over five years and were earmarked to support only fieldwork for the books not for writing, editing, or production of the volumes. Curtis himself would receive no salary for the project, which was to last more than 20 years. Under the terms of the arrangement, Morgan was to receive 25 sets and 500 original prints as his method of repayment.

The North American Indian by Edward Curtis

Once Curtis had secured funding for the project, he was able to hire several employees to help him. For writing as well as with recording Native American languages, Curtis hired a former journalist, William E. Myers. For general assistance with logistics and fieldwork, Curtis hired Bill Phillips, a graduate of the University of Washington. Perhaps the most important hire for the success of the project was Frederick Webb Hodge, an anthropologist employed by the Smithsonian who had also researched Native American peoples of the southwestern United States. Hodge was hired to edit the entire series.

222 complete sets were eventually published. Curtis' goal was not just to photograph, but to document, as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before that way of life disappeared. He wrote in the introduction to his first volume in 1907: "The information that is to be gathered ... respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost." Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music. He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes. He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs. He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only written recorded history although there is still a rich oral tradition that documents history. This work was exhibited at the Rencontres d'Arles festival (France) in 1973.


Curtis had been using motion picture cameras in the fieldwork for The North American Indian since 1906. He worked extensively with ethnographer and British Columbia native George Hunt in 1910, which inspired his work with the Kwakiutl, but much of their collaboration remains unpublished. At the end of 1912, In The Land of The Head Hunters - Film by Edward CurtisCurtis decided to create a feature film depicting Native American life, partly as a way of improving his financial situation and partly because film technology had improved to the point where it was conceivable to create and screen films more than a few minutes long. Curtis chose the Kwakiutl tribe of the Queen Charlotte Strait region of the Central Coast of British Columbia, Canada, for his subject. This film, titled "In the Land of the Head Hunters" was the first feature-length film whose cast was composed entirely of Native North Americans.

In the Land of the Head Hunters premiered simultaneously at the Casino Theatre in New York and the Moore Theatre in Seattle on December 7, 1914. The silent film was accompanied by a score composed by John J. Braham, a musical theater composer who had also worked with Gilbert and Sullivan. The film was praised by critics but made only $3,269.18 in its initial run.


Around 1922 Curtis moved to Los Angeles with his daughter Beth, and opened a new photo studio. To earn money he worked as an assistant cameraman for Cecil B. DeMille and was an uncredited assistant cameraman in the 1923 filming of The Ten Commandments. Edward Sherrif Curtis, PhotographerOn October 16, 1924 Curtis sold the rights to his ethnographic motion picture In the Land of the Head-Hunters to the American Museum of Natural History. He was paid $1,500 for the master print and the original camera negative. It had cost him over $20,000 to film.

In 1927 after returning from Alaska to Seattle with his daughter Beth, he was arrested for failure to pay alimony over the preceding 7 years. The total owed was $4,500, but the charges were dropped. For Christmas of 1927, the family was reunited at daughter Florence's home in Medford, Oregon. This was the first time since the divorce that Curtis was with all of his children at the same time, and it had been thirteen years since he had seen Katherine. In 1928, desperate for cash, Edward sold the rights to his project to J.P Morgan's son. In 1930 he published the concluding volume of The North American Indian. In total about 280 sets were sold of his now completed opus magnum. In 1930 his ex-wife, Clara, was still living in Seattle operating the photo studio with their daughter Katherine. His other daughter, Florence Curtis, was still living in Medford, Oregon with her husband Henry Graybill. After Clara died of heart failure in 1932, his daughter Katherine moved to California to be closer to her father and her sister Beth.


In 1892 Edward married Clara J. Phillips, who was born in Pennsylvania. Her parents were from Canada. Together they had four children: Harold Curtis; Elizabeth M. Curtis, who married Manford E. Magnuson; Florence Curtis who married Henry Graybill; and Katherine Curtis.

In 1896 the entire family moved to a new house in Seattle. The household then included Edward's mother, Ellen Sheriff; Edward's sister, Eva Curtis; Edward's brother, Asahel Curtis; Clara's sisters, Susie and Nellie Phillips; and Nellie's son, William.

During the years of work on the "North American Indian", Curtis was often absent from home for most of the year, leaving Clara to manage the children and the studio by herself. After several years of estrangement, Clara filed for divorce on October 16, 1916. In 1919 she was granted the divorce and received the Curtis' photographic studio and all of his original camera negatives as her part of the settlement. Edward went with his daughter, Beth, to the studio and destroyed all of his original glass negatives, rather than have them become the property of his ex-wife, Clara. Clara went on to manage the Curtis studio with her sister, Nellie M. Phillips, who was married to Martin Lucus. Following the divorce, the two oldest daughters, Beth and Florence, remained in Seattle, living in a boarding house separate from their mother. The youngest daughter, Katherine Curtis lived with Clara in Charleston, Kitsap County, Washington.

On October 19, 1952, at the age of 84, Curtis died of a heart attack in Whittier, California in the home of his daughter, Beth. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His terse obituary appeared in The New York Times on October 20, 1952.

"Edward S. Curtis, internationally known authority on the history of the North American Indian, died today at the home of a daughter, Mrs. Bess Magnuson. His age was 84. Mr. Curtis devoted his life to compiling Indian history. His research was done under the patronage of the late financier, J. Pierpont Morgan. The foreward for the monumental set of Curtis books was written by President Theodore Roosevelt. Mr. Curtis was also widely known as a photographer.

20 Volume Set Of Edward Curtis’ Landmark The North American Indian

Short Nights Of The Shadow Catcher - Edward Sherrif Curtis, PhotographerShort Nights of the Shadow Catcher
A book by Timothy Egan

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Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous portrait photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. But when he was thirty-two years old, in 1900, he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared. Curtis spent the next three decades documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty North American tribes. It took tremendous perseverance — ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him to observe their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. Curtis would amass more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings, and he is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian.

“A vivid exploration of one man's lifelong obsession with an idea . . . Egan’s spirited biography might just bring Curtis the recognition that eluded him in life.” — Washington Post

“A darn good yarn. Egan is a muscular storyteller and his book is a rollicking page-turner with a colorfully drawn hero.” — San Francisco Chronicle

Rent or Purchase Coming to Light - a film by Edward CurtisComing To Light: The Edward S. Curtis Story
A film written and directed by Anne Makepeace
Starring: Bill Pullmand and Sheila Tousey

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The dramatic story of eminent photographer Edward S. Curtis and the creation of his monumental portfolio of Native American images. Descendants of his photographic subjects tell stories about the photos and reveal their meaning to Indian people today.

"Coming to Light tells more than the story of its main subject, 'Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians.' It tells, too, of the tragedy of cultural loss and hopes for recovery of memory. The film honors the great achievements of Curtis by placing his pictures in a vibrant frame of sorrow, desire, and promise. In its sensitive and intelligent fusion of image, sound, and story, the film offers an extraordinary experience of living history. It cannot be praised enough." — Alan Trachtenberg, Neil Gray Professor of English and American Studies, Yale University

"Beautifully filmed, skillfully edited and well-paced, Coming To Light is highly recommended for courses on North American Indians, visual anthropology, and American popular culture. Well researched and deftly touching on the complex politics of cross-cultural visual representation, Makepeace's film exhibits a balanced perspective on Curtis as a trailblazer in visual ethnography." — Harald Prins, American Anthropologist

Purchase Shadow Catcher by Laurie LawlorShadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward S. Curtis
A book by Laurie Lawlor

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Many Native Americans photographed by Edward S. Curtis (1868–1952) called him Shadow Catcher. But the images he captured were far more powerful than mere shadows. When the twentieth century was just getting underway, Curtis began documenting North American Indian culture in words and photographs. Today, almost one hundred years later, his work still stands as the most extensive and informative collection of its kind. His photographs are more than mere documents; they are works of art revealing subtleties of human expression missing from other historical and anthropological records. Filled with Curtis’s breathtaking photographs and available for the first time in a paperback edition, Shadow Catcher traces Curtis’s life and work from his boyhood in Wisconsin, through his first photo expedition to Alaska in 1897 and the completion of The North American Indian collection in 1930, to his death in 1952.

• ALA Best Book for Young Adults, 1995
• Golden Kite Honor Book for Nonfiction, 1994
• Carl Sandburg Award, 1995
• Hungry Mind Review, 1995 Children's Books of Distinction
• Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies, 1995

"This carefully researched, highly readable book emphasizes the photographer's perseverance and quest for quality." — School Library Journal

"A handsome biography of an influential photographer includes a sampling of memorable images."
New York Times

Purchase at Amazon, Visions of the First AmericansEdward S. Curtis: Visions of the First Americans
A book by Don Gulbrandsen

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Edward S. Curtis: Visions of the First Americans is a tribute to the photographer, his work, but above all to the Native Americans he photographed. Chapters on many different Native American tribes make this collection unique. Edward Curtis's recognizable style, saturated with sepia, is immediately recognizable.

He captures not only the striking faces of his subjects, but also a glimpse into the lifestyle of each Native American tribe he photographed. Women grind corn, and communities gather outside their traditional living areas. Atop horses, Native Americans ride on the prarie. Papooses are bundled in woven carrying packs, and men are dressed in full feathered regalia. These images paint a picture, known to us now only as a historical memory. Many tribes are featured in this volume, from the familiar Apache and Navaho to lesser-known tribes.

This book will draw in readers who are interested in world cultures, along with photography buffs and historians. This hardcover volume is a wonderful addition to any library.

This is a beautifully printed large-format coffee table book that includes more than 300 Sepia Toned Native American images taken by early 19th Century Pioneer Photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis. The book includes an excellent introduction and helpful picture captions. It is a terrific collection of rare photographs of a vanished way of life. — James R. Holland, Author, Photographer


Purchase at Amazon, Sacred LegacySacred Legacy: Edward S. Curtis And The North American Indian
A book edited by Christopher Cardozo

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One hundred years ago, Edward Sheriff Curtis began a thirty-year odyssey to photograph and document the lives and traditions of the Native peoples of North America. This monumental project was hailed by "The New York Herald" as "the most gigantic undertaking since the making of the King James edition of the Bible."In this landmark volume, almost 200 of the finest examples of Cu rt is's photographs are reproduced with startling fidelity to his original prints. Produced to the very highest standards, "Sacred Legacy" presents Curtis's work without compromise for the first time in the modern era. Taken together, these profound images constitute no less than the core and essence of his life's work. Until now, virtually none of Curtis's photographs have been reproduced in a manner that captures the clarity and richness of his original master prints. In "Sacred Legacy," his greatest images are reproduced from the finest source materials available -- a significant number from breathtaking platinum, gold, and silver prints. All have been carefully selected for pub lication and for an accompanying international exhibition by Curtis authority Christopher Cardozo.In an effort to bring a new understanding to Curtis's monumental work, "Sacred Legacy" was developed according to the organizing principles set forth by the great photographer himself. Following the path la id out in his 20 volume magnum opus, "The North American Indian," geographic regions are presented separately and individual tribes within each region are depicted and described. Interspersed between these sections are compelling portrayals of those aspects of life common to all tribes, among them spirituality. ceremony, arts, and the activities of daily life.With "The North American Indian," Curtis achieved the impossible: an extraordinary 20 -volume set of handmade books composed of nearly 4,000 pages of text and 2,200 images presenting more than 80 of North America's Native nations. Luminous, iconic, and profoundly revealing, the pictures that form the heart of the original project are reproduced here in "Sacred Legacy." These extraordinary photographs had an immense impact on the national imagination and continue to shape the way we see Native life and culture."Sacred Legacy" is a fitting testament to the profound beauty, meaning, and complexity of Indian life and to Edward S. Curtis -- a man whose wisdom, passion, and strength drove him to devote thirty years to capturing the nobility and pride of the Native peoples of North America. The photographs in this brilliant volume represent the most important presentation of Curtis's work since the publication of the first volume of "Me North American Indian" nearly a century ago.


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A book by Dee Brown

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"One does not sell or soak with blood the earth upon which the people walk." — Crazy Horse

The massacre by United States soldiers of encamped Sioux at Wounded Knee is the culminating event in a barbarous and shameful catalog of war, slaughter, planned genocide, death marches, concentration camps, and broken treaties that the US government visted upon the peoples who had resided on the American continent for 40,000 years before the first white man stepped ashore. To write this searing, visceral account, which concentrates on the eradication of the vast Western tribes in just thirty years, from the first displacement of Navahos and Apaches in California to the atrocities committed at Wounded Knee--author Dee Brown devoted a lifetime to studying the American Indians. Through memoirs, trial transcripts and other government records we hear the authentic voices of chiefs and braves (intelligent, articulate, sometimes angry, more often sad or puzzled) tell one aspect or another of war they fought and lost to save their land, their buffalo, their culture, their very existence.

"Shattering, appalling, compelling... One wonders, reading this searing, heartbreaking book, who, indeed, were the savages." — William McPherson, The Washington Post

"Calculated to make the head pound, the heart ache, and the blood boil." — The London Times

"Original, remarkable, and finally heartbreaking . . . Impossible to put down." — The New York Times


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The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)
A film written by Paul Apak Angilirq and directed by Zacharias Kunuk
First feature film ever to be written, directed and acted entirely in Inuktitut

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Atanarjuat the Fast Runner is the first feature film in the Inuktitut language, spoken by the Inuit tribes of northern Canada. The film, based on an ancient Inuit legend, is set at the dawn of the millennium. It's an epic tale of love, betrayal, and revenge, set in motion by an evil force brought to the village of Igloolik by a mysterious shaman. Conceived by the late Paul Apak Angilirq, who co-wrote the screenplay, the film was shot on widescreen digital video by Norman Cohn (one of the few non-Inuit crew members on the shoot) and directed by Zacharias Kunuk. Kunuk and his crew meticulously re-created the conditions the Inuit tribes lived under before exposure to Southern influences, using information handed down from tribe elders and the journals of Captain William Edward Parry, a British explorer who visited the area in 1822.

The film tells the story of Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaq), an unassuming young man who falls in love with Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu), whose hand has already been promised to the scheming Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq), the son of the tribal chief. Atanarjuat doesn't think he's strong enough to fight Oki, and relies on his older brother, the powerful Amaqjuaq (Pakkak Innukshuk), to look out for him. But eventually, the jealous Oki challenges Atanarjuat to a brutal contest for Atuat's hand. Atanarjuat wins, and weds his love, but his problems are far from over. While Atuat is pregnant, Oki's sister, the flirtatious Puja (Lucy Tulugarjuk), seduces Atanarjuat and becomes his second wife. She disrupts Atanarjuat's family from within while Oki plans his revenge.

Atanarjuat the Fast Runner won the Camera D'Or at Cannes in 2001, and was selected for the 2002 New Directors/New Films Festival at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. ~ Josh Ralske, Rovi

"From its mystical-mythical opening to the stunning finale, this is storytelling at its most primal and filmmaking at its most original." — Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel

"A beautiful, timeless and universal tale of heated passions -- jealousy, betrayal, forgiveness and murder."
Eric Harrison, Houston Chronicle

"It's a masterpiece." — Joe Baltake, Sacramento Bee


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Little Big Man
A film directed by Arthur Penn
Starring: Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway

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Recounting how the West was won through the eyes of a white man raised as a Native American, Arthur Penn's 1970 adaptation of Thomas Berger's satirical novel was a comic yet stinging allegory about the bloody results of American imperialism. As a misguided 20th-century historian listens, 121-year-old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) narrates the story of being the only white survivor of Custer's Last Stand. White orphan Crabb was adopted by the Cheyenne, renamed "Little Big Man," and raised in the ways of the "Human Beings" by paternal mentor Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George), accepting non-conformity and living peacefully with nature. Violently thrust into the white world, Jack meets a righteous preacher (Thayer David) and his wife (Faye Dunaway), tries to be a gunfighter under the tutelage of Wild Bill Hickock (Jeff Corey), and gets married. Returned to the Cheyenne by chance, Jack prefers life as a Human Being. The carnage wreaked by the white man in the Washita massacre and the lethal fallout from the egomania of General George A. Custer (Richard Mulligan) at Little Big Horn, however, show Crabb the horrific implications of Old Lodge Skins' sage observation, "There is an endless supply of White Men, but there has always been a limited number of Human Beings."

"An American classic, Little Big Man seeks to rectify Western history with this engrossing account of the colorful life of 121-year-old Jack Crabb." — Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle

"One of Dustin Hoffman's best films, one of Arthur Penn's best films, and one of Hollywood's best films."
John J. Puccio, Movie Metropolis

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A film directed by Kevin Costner
Starring: Kevin Costner and Mary McDonnell

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Kevin Costner stars in and directs this triumphant masterpiece written by Michael Blake, based on his novel. On Blu-ray for the very first time, this breathtaking 20th Anniversary Edition includes an extended cut of the film and all-new exclusive extras. Winner of seven Academy Awardsr, including Best Directing and Best Picture, this modern classic tells the story of Lt. Dunbar (Costner), a Civil War hero who befriends a tribe of Sioux Indians while stationed at a desolate outpost on the American frontier. What follows is a series of unforgettable moments - from Dunbar's tender scenes with Stands With A Fist (Mary McDonnell), to the thrilling, action-packed buffalo hunt.

"Dances With Wolves is a clear-eyed vision. Authentic as an Edward Curtis photograph, lyrical as a George Catlin oil or a Karl Bodmer landscape, this is a film with a pure ring to it." — Sheila Benson, Los Angeles Times

"The important issues raised by the film- centered on the cultural, racial and moral struggle that took place on the American frontier-are glossed over in favor of a juvenile fantasy of male bonding around the campfire."
Dave Kehr, Chicago Tribune

"A grand, sweeping journey of the heart." — Maria Llull, Common Sense Media

Purchase or Rent at Amazon, The Last of the MohicansThe Last of the Mohicans - Director's Cut
A film directed by Michael Mann
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe

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Director Michael Mann based this lushly romantic version of the James Fenimore Cooper novel more on his memory of the 1936 film version (starring Randolph Scott) than on Cooper's novel (in fact, Philip Dunne's 1936 screenplay is cited as source material for this film). Set in the 1750s during the French and Indian War, the story concerns Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), the European-born adopted son of Mohican scout Chingachgook (Russell Means). Hawkeye and his party, which also includes the Mohican Uncas (Eric Schweig), joins up with a group of Britons who have recently arrived in the Colonies. The group consists of Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe) and her younger sister, Alice (Jodhi May), who are rescued from a Huron war party by Hawkeye. Hawkeye's band accompanies them to the British Fort William Henry, which is being besieged by a French and Huron force. The fort falls to the French, and Colonel Munro (Maurice Roeves) surrenders to French General Montcalm (Patrice Chéreau). The terms of the surrender are that the British merely abandon the fort and return to their homes. However, the French's bloodthirsty ally, the Huron warrior Magua (Wes Studi), has made no such agreement, and, as the British retreat from the fort, he plans to massacre them in a terrible Huron attack. — Paul Brenner, Rovi

"The final 25 minutes earn a 5-star rating on their own." — Scott Weinberg, eFilmCritic.com

"A lush and irresistible historic adventure." — Rob Vaux, Flipside Movie Emporium


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Native American Playing Cards
55 Portraits by Edward S. Curtis
Poker deck created by Prospero Art

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• Poker Size Deck
• 52 Suit Cards
• 2 Jokers
• 1 Key/Info Card

This deck of cards features 55 Curtis portraits.
Every card is a beautiful work of art.
See examples here

Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868 – 1952) Internationally known authority on the North American Indian, an ethnologist and photographer.

Curtis took over 40,000 photographicimages of over 80 tribes. He recorded tribal lore and history, described leaders, food, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs.

Curtis was known as ‘Shadow Catcher,’ a name given to him by several tribes.

“The information that is to be gathered, of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost.” — Edward S. Curtis