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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 6, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 01
Harriet Bullitt donates Edward Curtis' The North American Indian to the Seattle Public Library
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Harriet Bullitt donates Edward Curtis' The North American Indian to the Seattle Public Library

Philanthropist Harriet Bullitt has donated her rare collection of Edward S. Curtis' The North American Indian to The Seattle Public Library.

Curtis (1868-1952) was an American photographer and ethnologist whose work focused on the American West and Native American peoples.

'We are beyond honored that Ms. Bullitt is entrusting The Seattle Public Library to be good stewards of such an important collection of work that documents American Indian culture,' said Marcellus Turner, city librarian. 'We are extremely excited about the possibilities this generous donation opens up for us to showcase Curtis' work for years to come and to foster exploration of an important chapter in the history of our country.'

'The North American Indian' is a collection of 20 informational books and 20 books of large images, written and photographed by Curtis and his collaborators over the course of nearly 30 years, detailing the traditions and customs of more than 80 of North America's native nations.

'I treasure this collection, which was given to me by my mother,' Bullitt said. 'The Seattle Public Library is the perfect place for it. I am absolutely thrilled to know this incredibly important body of work will be well preserved and appreciated for generations to come. I believe everyone should have a chance to see it.'

Curtis felt a deep sense of purpose in documenting the cultural customs of Native American tribes, which he believed were facing extinction, in the early 20th century. Each published set was accompanied by 20 large portfolios containing over 2,200 photogravure prints of the people, places and customs Curtis came to know. The set is considered a remarkable publishing feat and an invaluable historic and artistic resource. There were 222 complete sets published and it is unknown how many exist today. Most known sets can be found in libraries and museums.

Bullitt's set of 'The North American Indian' will become the second complete set in the Library's Special Collections. The Library will be able to create public displays with the books, as well as the information and images contained within them. With two sets in its possession, the Library may also consider loaning portions of its first complete set to other Northwest institutions to leverage the reach of the collection.

'Curtis' work was bold and transformational, reshaping the way the rest of the country saw and understood Native Americans,' said Jodee Fenton, Special Collections managing librarian. 'This work has become absolutely essential to preserving the history of Native American tribal customs and I am overjoyed we will have such an exquisite collection to share with the public.'

The Library's Special Collections staff also plans to make the new set an important part of the Curtis150 sesquicentennial celebration of Curtis' life's work in 2018. Throughout the year, images from the collection will be on display in the Level 8 Gallery of the Central Library. The Curtis150 celebration is a multi-institution project that includes the Library, Seattle Art Museum, the University of Washington, American Friends Service Committee's Seattle Indian Program, The Edward Curtis Foundation and more.

Bullitt is a deeply dedicated environmentalist and one of only 53 people to receive the National Audubon Society's highest honor for her lifelong commitment to environmental conservation, which includes the clean-up of nuclear waste and the protection and restoration of rivers and forests in the Pacific Northwest. Marrying her passion for the environment with her love of the arts, Bullitt restored several acres of Icicle Creek Canyon near Leavenworth and established a performing arts center, mountain retreat and charitable arts foundation there. She currently serves as vice-chair of the Bullitt Foundation board of trustees.

Bullitt's mother Dorothy was instrumental in the founding of several Seattle organizations, including KING Broadcasting Co., KING-FM, Seattle Children's Hospital, the Seattle Symphony and the Cornish College of the Arts.

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