Edward S. Curtis American, 1868-1952

Copper Photogravure Printing Plates

Edward Curtis began work on these Copper Photogravure Printing Plates in 1906 to produce the images in his The North American IndianBeing a Series of Volumes Picturing and Describing the Indians of United States and Alaska, and would work on them continuously until the project was finally completed in 1928.


Significantly, the Copper Photogravure Printing Plates are the source of origin for every vintage photogravure print extant produced in The North American Indian. All of the images in The North American Indian, in large and small formats, were printed from these exquisitely prepared Copper Photogravure Printing Plates, the very same as the ones seen here. Each plate is a unique work and a primary document of one of the most significant publishing ventures of the 20th century.


The quality of the Photogravure Printing Plates was of primary importance to Curtis throughout the publication of The North American Indian.  In 2005, at the Braun Research Library, Autry National Center in Los Angeles, Curtis scholar Bruce Kapson unearthed a 44-year cache of correspondence between Curtis and Frederick Webb Hodge, editor of The North American Indian.  Throughout this decades-long exchange, Curtis describes in detail the meticulous care he continually took with his photoengraver to perfect the imagery on the copper plates. 


Edward S. Curtis would go on to spend more time perfecting the imagery of each Copper Photogravure Printing Plate than on anything else he ever printed or any of his other photographic processes. He would repeatedly go up and back with his photoengraver working a plate until he was able to produce what he considered perfect. Each finished Copper Photogravure Printing Plate represents Curtis' most evolved vision for the images used in The North American Indian.


The Copper Photogravure Printing Plates possess a breathtaking beauty and elegance, making them compelling objects of art in and of themselves. The light reflecting off the engraved copper adds a three-dimensional quality to the image on the Plate. The three-dimensionality of these polished copper plates offers a wholly new material and singular aesthetic experience, one that is distinct from Curtis's gravures, photographic prints, and goldtones. These Plates are the most compellingly beautiful pieces found in this artist's staggeringly beautiful body of work. 


The Copper Photogravure Printing Plates presented by the Bruce Kapson Gallery are all in excellent original condition and carefully conserved to their original untreated copper and inked state with no protective sealant or enhancement applied to alter the Copper Photogravure Printing Plate from its original state.