Seattle Foundation Blog

Thinking Beyond The Frame

Marking 150 years since Edward Curtis’ birth by exploring the cultures and resilience of Native peoples today

March 02, 2018

By Shannon Kopelva, Beyond the Frame Project Coordinator

Beyond the Frame – To Be Native launched at Chihuly Garden and Glass on February 16, 2018, the sesquicentennial birthday of famed Seattle photographer Edward S. Curtis. Curtis’s singular work is often praised and revered for its sheer breadth and scope. In his more than 30-year project to preserve the cultures of American Indian tribes, he captured over 40,000 stunning photographs, rich ethnographic writings and cylinder wax recordings of Native Americans during the turn of the 20th century. But just as often, Curtis’s photographic work is criticized for romanticizing and stereotyping Native peoples, which helped misinform the way Native people are perceived and viewed today.

The Beyond the Frame - To Be Native campaign seeks a way to reconcile Curtis’s depiction of Native people as relics of the past by challenging those misconceptions and showing that Native people and cultures are alive, dynamic and thriving here in the Northwest and throughout the country.

beyondtheframe postcard 400

The idea for this project began as staff at the Seattle Public Library noticed an increase in requests a few years ago to view the library’s collection of Curtis’s 20-volume masterwork, The North American Indian, and accompanying photogravure folios (photogravure is a technique when a negative is transferred to a copper plate, which is used to print or engrave the image with ink). Jodee Fenton, special collections manager for Seattle Public Library, began thinking about how the library could best share Curtis’s work with the public.

Fenton was aware that Curtis’s legacy could heighten awareness, and reflected that a thoughtful sesquicentennial exploration might help reconcile painful misconceptions surrounding Native peoples. Pursuing that thread, she gathered members for an advisory committee and held meetings to gain critical insight from the community, educators, Native Americans, historians and local institutional leaders. These many voices helped to inform what would become the Beyond the Frame - To Be Native campaign. This year-long celebration and exploration is designed to illuminate the culture, histories and voices missing from Curtis’s photographs. The campaign invites the community, institutional participants and sponsors to use the work of Edward S. Curtis to spark conversations about Native American art and culture, identity and resilience.

What started out as a vision to bring awareness of current Native American voices and authenticity to the Seattle community has grown to the participation of more than 20 museums, cultural centers, libraries and tribal communities throughout Seattle and the region. Seattle Public Library, Seattle Art Museum, Suquamish Museum, Hugo House and the Frye Art Museum, among many others, will be hosting exhibitions and programs in 2018. More exhibits and events will take place in Wenatchee, Toppenish and Spokane, with the hope that additional institutions and communities will join the conversations.

Information about the campaign and upcoming events and exhibits can be found at The website also features information about Edward S. Curtis, a section on what it means “To Be Native in the Northwest,” resources and articles and how to support the campaign.

Seattle Foundation is proud to be the fiscal sponsor of the Beyond the Frame campaign, which has received generous financial and in-kind support from a number of philanthropic leaders, including individuals, tribal groups, companies, foundations and nonprofit organizations. 




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American Indians and Alaska NativesArts and CultureArts and Culture

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