And canoe maker David Moses Bridges cant surpass the sadness. If you look into their faces you can see the despair, Bridges states in a taped gallery audio tour. You can see the pain and the suffering that they needed to sustain, that they are sustaining at the time this picture was taken.
Bridges makes that observation while describing his response to the cream-colored photograph Cayuse Mom and Child, taken by Edward Curtis in 1910. It is one of 2 lots images that make up the third-floor exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, Edward Curtis: Choices from the North American Indian, on view through Might 29.
A Midwesterner, Curtis invested the much better part of 3 decades photographing Indians in the American West and eventually released more than 2,200 pictures in 20 volumes under the title The North American Indian. The Portland museum owns 80 Curtis prints.
The pictures are controversial, since Curtis was unfaithful to his topics. He positioned them from context, got rid of modern references and developed stereotypes.
Mollie Armstrong, exhibitions planner at the museum, stated the Curtis program developed from the curatorial staffs deep dive into the museums permanent collection in preparation of its Masterworks on Paper exhibition now on view on the very first floor. The Curtis images, which pertained to the museum as a gift in 1974, have actually been revealed a couple of times for many years, howevernow seemed like a particularly great time to revisit the collection, with context. Problems connected to native culture and politics are popular, and more attention is being paid to native arts and crafts usually, she said.
For the firstvery first time, the museum consisted of Wabanaki basketmakers in its biennial in 2015. The Curtis exhibition is coincidental to the inclusion of basketmakers in the biennial, but both show the museums level of sensitivity to the subject and its desire to inform a more complete story, Armstrong stated. This is the sort of story you have to tell, she said.
The photos represent a tremendous effort on the part of Curtis, who withstood a failed marriage and individual bankruptcy in pursuit of the Indian job. He went to more than 80 people, recording histories, customs, artifacts and clothing of hundreds of Indians. It could have been huge, but Curtis romanticized his subjects, and instead of producing a photographic record that was traditionally precise, he blurred truths and perpetuated myths still related to American Indians today.
The sadness identified by Bridges underlies a fact that was present in native culture. At the time Curtis took these photos, Indians had actually only just recently been removed from their native lands and required to survive government reservations. Their language and standard methods were dissuaded and in some cases forbidden, their culture something to be forgotten and not celebrated.
Bridges notes in his audio tour, there had to do with 250 Wabanaki people in Maine on the federal census in 1900. And the future certainly did not look bright, at that time, he states. They were hanging on for dear life just to exist as Wabanaki people. And maybe simply to exist, period. That was a hard time to be indigenous.
Curtis exercised West, and did not picture the Wabanaki. However the story the images tell are universal facts to native individuals. The museum is revealing these photos because context, promoting their charm and the care that Curtis took in composing them – along with his devotion to his topic – while including the voices of modern Maine artists like Bridges and Neptune, who are also Wabanaki. Neptune will give a gallery talk at noon May 6 and get involved in a panel conversation that afternoon with Darren J. Ranco, chair of Native American Programs at the University of Maine, and others. Catlin-Legutko will moderate.
Whats challenging is that when Curtis did this photography, he glossed over the parts of the American Indian experience that were ravaging, Catlin-Legutko stated. He showed this honorable savage, and that identity carriedfinished several generations. Its a historical record, however you have to take it at surface value.
Neptune, whose baskets were included in the museums 2015 biennial, frowns at the idea perpetuated in these photographs that Indians are of the past. The entire photo series enhances the stereotype of the vanishing or disappearing Indian, he said. Its very harmful long term. The more you believe of individuals as something in the past, it makes it much easier to dehumanize those individuals now.
The contemporary discussion about Indian mascots for sports groups is closely relevant to issues raised by the Curtis pictures, he stated. The mascots typically embody the warchief-on-horseback images that Curtis staged, and Indian voices are disrespected in the conversation, he stated.
Neptune doesn’t blame Curtis directly for the problems of stereotype and cultural exploitation that exist today. Curtis became part of a bigger cultural phenomenon associated with the West. His images were a by-product of American expansion and its teaching of Manifest Destiny, which justified the removal of Indians from their lands as an Anglo right and a repercussion of development and financial prosperity.
Neptune, a teacher at the Abbe, credits the Portland Museum of Art for including Indian voices in the conversation and for providing context. Typically individuals do not think of getting the Native American viewpoint, he stated.
On May 1, the Abbe Museum will open a large-scale permanent exhibit, Individuals of the First Light, that tells a 12,000-year story of the Wabanaki Nations, a confederacy amongst the Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot. Part of that story has to do with resilience and contemporary significance and relevance, Neptune stated.
While not part of the Abbe exhibition, the Curtis photos are associated since they represent colonization from the Anglo viewpoint. The Abbe exhibition will tell the Wabanaki story from a non-colonial perspective. The exhibit in Bar Harbor and the decision of Portland curators to include Indian voices in the Curtis program are remarkable examples of exactly what de-colonization can resemble when talking abut native culture and history, Neptune stated.
Nearly all the images in the exhibition concerned the museum from Julius and Frances Elowitch of Portland. Their boy is Rob Elowitch, who runs Barridoff Galleries in Portland.
They knew nothing of photography but were fascinated by the Curtis pictures, Elowitch said of his late parents. They had actually become offeredappeared to me through a buddy at the time, and I recommended they buy them and one day, maybe, give them to the museum, which is exactly what they did.
Elowitch was shocked that the Portland exhibition is composed nearly entirely of the Elowitch present. The only exception is The Fisherman, Wisham, taken in 1904. That came as a gift in 1998 as part of the collection of Judy Ellis Glickman.
Elowitch calls the Glickman photo an extraordinary addition to his moms and dads collection. In it, Curtis shows an Indian fisherman set down on a rock, peering over the side into churning water. His arms are outstretched, and hes holding what appears to be a long spear in his hunt for fish. The impossibility of his task appears immense, and Curtis virtually certainlyprobably postured his topic, who is barefoot and covered just at the waist by a small cloth.
Neptune flinches at the picture. It fits exactly what Curtis viewed an Indian should appear like, he stated.
Neptune visits schools frequently as a teacher and an artist. Now and againNow and then, a kid asks if he rode to school on a horse, he stated. And that very same kid never comprehends why hes wearing sneakers instead of moccasins.