Pulitzer Prize winner Timothy Egan discusses E.S. Curtis’s Indian photographs at Buffalo Bill Center of the West, September 17

Chief Joseph - Nez Perce

Chief Joseph – Nez Perce

CODY, WYOMING — One of the many treasures in the McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, is a complete set of E.S. Curtis’s 20-volume creation, “The North American Indian.” Curtis (1868 – 1952) devoted 30 years to photographing and documenting more than 80 tribes west of the Mississippi—taking in excess of 40,000 photos, all in natural light. Between 1907 and 1930, he published The North American Indian, each of the 20 volumes with 75 hand-pressed photogravures (intaglio printing with copper plates) and 300 pages of text. A corresponding portfolio containing at least 36 photogravures accompanied each volume, images from which are now on display in the Library gallery.

“The story of Curtis’s efforts is extraordinary,” says Mary Robinson, Housel Director of the McCracken Library. “Our display of volumes of ‘The North American Indian’, along with selected photogravures, has proven to be very popular with our visitors. Now, having Timothy Egan here to discuss Curtis is really the perfect complement to the exhibit.”

Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time,” Egan writes. “He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. And he was 32 years old in 1900 when he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared…. An Indiana Jones with a camera, Curtis spent the next three decades traveling…. In the end he fulfilled his promise: He made the Indians live forever.”

The American Library Association named Egan’s biography of Curtis the winner of its 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. Of Egan and the book, Wayne Curtis of the Wall Street Journal wrote on October 12, 2012, “Egan fills his chronicle with bright turns of phrase and radiant descriptions, making both places and people come alive…a sweeping tale about two vanishing ways of life.” Writing in an October 7, 2012, column for the Seattle Times, Charles Cross notes, “This year a complete copy of The North American Indian sold for a record $2.88 million at an auction house. Egan calls Curtis’s book a work of ‘lasting merit.’ The same can also easily be said for Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher.”

An acclaimed writer and veteran chronicler of the West, Egan’s interests range wide across the American landscape and American history. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, a popular columnist, and a National Book Award-winning author. His online weekly “Opinionator” for the New York Times is consistently among the most-read pieces on the Times website. He previously worked as one of the newspaper’s national correspondents, roaming the West and serving as its Pacific Northwest correspondent.

In 2001, Egan was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that wrote the series “How Race is Lived in America.” He’s also authored several other books, including “The Big Burn—Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America” (a “New York Times” bestseller and winner of the 2009 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award) and “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl” (a work Walter Cronkite called “can’t-put-it-down history”), which won the 2006 National Book Award for nonfiction. In addition, Egan is featured prominently in Ken Burns’s acclaimed 2012 film, “The Dust Bowl.”

For more information, contact Robinson at maryr(at)centerofthewest(dot)org or 307-578-4063. Learn more about the Curtis exhibit on the Center’s website.

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