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Magnificent Edward Curtis Glass Plate

CURTIS, EDWARD. Original glass plate photograph, Honovi – Walpi Snake Priest, prepared by Curtis for the printing of The North American Indian

This portrait, titled Honovi - Walpi Snake Priest, with Totokya Day Painting, was published as a photogravure in The North American Indian, volume 12, plate 408, c.1910

Approx. 14 x 17 inches. Accompanied by a custom wall-mount light box. Excellent condition. A stunning display piece.

“Take a good look. We’re not going to see this kind of thing much longer. It already belongs to the past.” – George Bird Grinnell to Edward Curtis, 1900

This is a splendid original glass plate made for Curtis’s The North American Indian, the greatest photographic work on Native Americans. Edward Curtis was one of the most important American artists of the nineteenth century and the most celebrated photographer of North American Indians. Over the course of thirty-five years, Curtis took tens of thousands of photographs of Indians from more than eighty tribes. “Never before have we seen the Indians of North America so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world, their innate dignity and self-possession” (N. Scott Momaday). Curtis’s photographs are “an absolutely unmatched masterpiece of visual anthropology, and one of the most thorough, extensive and profound photograph works of all time” (A. D. Coleman).

Curtis printed 2200 of his images as photogravures in his magisterial The North American Indian , which was hailed as “the most gigantic undertaking in the making of books since the King James Bible” (New York Herald). These photogravures were printed from large-format photographic glass plates, the vast majority of which were subsequently destroyed.

Curtis devoted the twelfth volume of The North American Indian to the Hopi. He wrote of this photograph of Honovi, “This plate depicts the accoutrement of a Snake dancer on the day of the Antelope dance (see Volume XII, pages 146-149). The right hand grasps a pair of eagle-feathers – the ‘snake whip’ – and the left a bag of ceremonial meal. Honovi was one of the author’s principal informants.”

Curtis’s lifelong project was inspired by his reflection that “The passing of every old man or woman means the passage of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rite possessed by no other; consequently, the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the modes of life of one of the greatest races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.”

The present stunning example is one of the very few glass plate photographs that have survived. The image contains a wealth of detail that was lost in the photogravure process, and when shown in the accompanying lightbox, it is a dazzling photographic masterpiece.

This is an exceptional opportunity to acquire one of the greatest monuments of photography in one of its rarest and most important forms.