Edward S. Curtis, Printing the Legends
Looking at Shadows in a West Lit Only by Fire

by Dr. Larry Len Peterson

foreword by Dr. Brian W. Dippie and John Taliaferro

published by Larry Len Peterson

produced by Sweetgrass Books

  • If you think you know the Curtis story, think again. This landmark publication is not only packed with stunning illustrations but also astounding discoveries about Curtis's life. For example, the 1898 perpetually repeated legend of Curtis rescuing George Bird Grinnell and other famed scientists on Mount Rainier actually never happened. Grinnell was thousands of miles away. Clearly, genius loves company. One of the main focuses of this book is to contextualize Curtis's life in the cultures in which he and his subjects lived.

    Curtis fell in love with Native Americans and was captivated by Pictorialism, photography inspired by Romanticism where beautiful people were captured in beautiful settings, which made the picture appear to be like a painting. Art for art's sake was the aim. The end result of his passion and unequaled drive was The North American Indian (TNAI), a twenty-volume portfolio and book set with over 2,200 photogravures and 2.5 million words of scholarly, ethnographic text on eighty Western tribes. His efforts were supernatural. From 1896 when he took a picture of Princess Angeline, eldest daughter of Chief Seattle, to the final journey to Alaska to photograph the Inuit in 1927, Curtis compiled the greatest photojournalistic publication in American history, TNAI (1907-1930). Over 10,000 Indigenous people proudly participated. And during that span he had countless grand adventures and stupendous failures, but he never gave up. In contrast to Curtis, other visual artists of his era focused almost entirely on a dozen tribes or so on the Northern Plains and in the Southwest. That's because those regions were promoted by the railways, which generated patrons. Their tasks were easy compared to Curtis's. That said, one of his greatest contributions was bringing other Western American, Alaskan, and Canadian tribes to the forefront so they could also be showcased.

    This publication is a deep dive into Curtis's life and works that is at once intimate and panoramic. With over 250 illustrations and a 150,000-word text, the reader will learn why Curtis stands proudly on top of the pantheon of Western American artists. We will be speaking his and his Native American friend's names for generations to come.

472 pages, 8.5 x 11 inches, 190 color photos, 50 illustrations, index

ISBN 10: 1591523389
ISBN 13: 9781591523383

January 2024

    • Endnotes
    • Bibliography





Edward S. Curtis, Printing the Legends
Looking at Shadows in a West Lit Only by Fire

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Dr. Larry Len Peterson align=

Western American art historian Dr. Larry Len Peterson has published more books on Western artists than any other living author. His The American West Reimagined (2021) is considered the standard reference book on the artists of the West. He is the 2019 Montana Heritage Guardian Award recipient, the highest honor bestowed by the Montana Historical Society Board of Trustees in Helena. Peterson is an award-winning scientist, physician, cultural historian, and author. His thirty-year career in the visual field of dermatology and a National Institute of Health (NIH) research fellowship provided him with an excellent background to explore art and history. He has published dozens of articles in prestigious medical and scientific periodicals including The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

In its year-end Best of the West Collector's Edition, the iconic True West Magazine rated Peterson 2018 Best Author and his American Trinity: Jefferson, Custer, and the Spirit of the West as 2018 Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year (out of 600 submitted). Its highly regarded book reviewer and editor Stuart Rosebrook, Ph.D., wrote, 'The end result of Peterson's introspective journey as an author, scientist and Westerner is his publication of the most reflective philosophical history of American history published in the past 50 years.'

Peterson is also the recipient of the C.M. Russell Heritage Award, Western Heritage Award, Scriver Award, High Plains Book Award, Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award, and the University of Nebraska Great Plains Book of the Month Selection.

Dr. Peterson lives with his wife LeAnne on their Spirit of Winter Ranch near Sisters, Oregon, in the shadows of the Three Sisters Mountains—Hope, Faith, and Charity.

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