Bringing Edward Curtis’ legendary photographs back to life
In an effort to preserve traditions and culture of the indigenous peoples of North America and the painting legacy of Edward Curtis, these digital replicas of Curtis' original photographs were produced by Ana Grigorjev as part of the Edward Curtis Legends project. The paintings are made in order to make Curtis' work more widely accessible to the public.
Featuring painted replicas of a famous photographer’s Native American portraits, the “Edward Curtis Legends Exhibition” held its reception at Studio ONE: A Space for Art and Activism on Friday, Jan. 31.
Edward S. Curtis was a photographer who captured depictions of over 70 indigenous tribes across the United States from 1900 to 1930, according to the Smithsonian Institution’s website. He created 20 volumes of work about the tribes and took over 40,000 photographs.
Roger Pike, from Alaska, has been involved in the art world for 50 years and is the founder of “Edward Curtis Legends Exhibition.” Through this project, he hired artist Ana Grigorjev to digitally paint the Curtis photographs. So far, she has recreated 65 and has been commissioned to paint the entire collection.
“The original Curtis work is expensive, so we sell the prints of [Grigorjev’s] paintings for affordable prices and take the art on tours so that it is more accessible to everyone,” Pike said. “This project is important because it shows the existence of a beautiful culture — of a people. I just want to give something back.”
Augustine Lopez, the new curator of Studio ONE, deeply connected with and was inspired by Curtis’ work when he first saw it. So when he discovered the Edward Curtis Legends project and met Pike, the two began planning collaborations on future art projects.
“I’m Native American, of the Yoeme people,” Lopez said. “Our race, heritage and traditions are being forgotten; languages are being lost. That’s why Curtis’ work is so important. [Pike] is reproducing these photos in order to give them back to the people.”
Lee Butz, an attendee of the art reception, has seen the original works by Curtis in other galleries before.
“I’m an American Indian,” Butz said. “It makes me proud to see these paintings on the wall. I’m grateful that someone has brought this work to the public, because we’re basically invisible, left out.”
Richard Calling Eagle, a retired art dealer and set designer in Arizona, also attended the reception.
“Through this art, we can see the world through the eyes of a conquered people,” Calling Eagle said. “It stirs me to the soul to see such powerful photos of my ancestors.”
The show, which features both original Curtis photographs and Grigorjev reproductions, will be open to the public for free until March 1.
“This subject matter is something that all should see,” Pike said. “These portraits of a culture before it was desecrated give a whole different insight, we need to respect one another.”
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