Artwork Detail

The Apache Reaper
American, 1868–1952
Photogravure on vellum
11 7/16 x 15 3/4 "
Gift of Stephen Bunyard and Cheryl Griffin, 1987
WU 1987.9.2
Edward S. Curtis is best known for his monumental project to document disappearing North American Indian tribes in the early twentieth century. Working alone or with various assistants, and with support from prominent individuals such as President Theodore Roosevelt and financier and banker John Pierpont Morgan, Curtis visited more than eighty tribes across the United States and Canada in order to record, through photography, sound recordings, and written accounts, the customs and traditions of Native Americans. "The North American Indian," published between 1907 and 1930, consists of twenty volumes of explanatory text with photographic illustrations and an additional twenty portfolios of larger, individual photogravure plates that complement the text volumes. Curtis’s complicated project illustrates, among other things, the conflicted nature of photography—part science, part art—in the first decades of the twentieth century: he employed photography to record and reveal information, yet many of his photographs are deeply influenced by aesthetic conventions borrowed from traditions of painting. Although he set out with ethnographic ambitions, the works he created are mediated though nostalgia for a preindustrial, Arcadian existence. "The Apache Reaper," a large portfolio plate, shows a man leaning forward in the act of cutting a field of wheat; the gradual blurring, subtle tonal contrasts, and artful lighting that highlight the figure against the dark hills and the setting sun monumentalize and idealize the anonymous figure in a way that recalls nineteenth-century painted depictions of rural peasant life. [Exhibition brochure text, 2010]