Edward S. Curtis’ Unpublished Alaska

by Greg Lincoln

A new book featuring one hundred images of Alaska Natives has been released by the Curtis Legacy Foundation – Unpublished Alaska. This project showcases previously unpublished photos including some from Nunivak Island, Hooper Bay, and all the way up the coast to Noatak.

The photos were taken in the summer of 1927 and are supplemented by the personal journals of both Edward S. Curtis and his daughter Beth Curtis who accompanied him on part of his journey. “Beth’s journal was much more descriptive, giving readers a better feel for the people and culture,” says the authors.

In the photos you can see a herd of Nunivak Island reindeer, kayaks, and the beautiful traditional clothing including headgear. Some of the women have labrets and beaded headdresses. There are photos of the ocean, sod homes, food caches, wooden taluyaq fish traps, drying racks full of salmon and tom cod, children, and families. One photo shows a man with an Eskimo drum. Also shown are photos of the ocean and their mode of transportation – the skiff Jewel Guard.

There are also some photos of the houses on King Island, which is now uninhabited.

When Edward Curtis’ only grandchild, Jim Graybill, at 92 years old, was no longer able to care for the Curtis family collection, it was placed in the trusted hands of the Curtis Legacy Foundation. The foundation was founded by all three of Curtis’ great-grandchildren in 2019 in efforts to continue Edward Curtis’ legacy and amplify the voices of today’s Native American communities. During an inventory of this family collection, they discovered over 200 unpublished images, made by Curtis in Alaska in 1927, among the assortment of stored photographs. These pictures were not included in Volume 20 of Curtis’ famed grand opus The North American Indian.

“One hundred images of Alaska Natives were selected to grace the pages of this book,” said the Curtis Legacy Foundation. “The Curtis Legacy Foundation feels the importance of sharing these pictures with Edward Curtis fans, museums, galleries, researchers, genealogy enthusiasts and especially the Alaska Native communities.”

Out of his 30 plus years of traveling to photograph Native Americans, this was the only time Edward Curtis documented his personal journey.

If you’re interested in this book, you can check it out at the Kuskokwim Consortium Library in Bethel and take a journey back through time.