Thursday, September 27, 2018

If this is Thursday it must be postcards, 370

"Watching the Dancers," Hopi, 1906
[photo:  Edward S. Curtis]

When we were visiting the Redwoods I found the two postcards shared this week at the Trees of Mystery gift shop.  That shop also had a small museum with a very impressive collection of Native American photographs, artwork and jewelry.  Both cards are unused, published by AZUZA Publishing Co., LLC, Englewood, Colorado and have vintage photographs. 

The hairstyle shown on these two cards caught my interest and was the reason I purchased the cards.   A month or two after that trip Bob and I visited the Seattle Art Museum’s Double Exposure exhibition with photographs by Edward S. Curtis and a few others who specialized in Native American portraits and life scenes. 

The top postcard has a 1906 photograph by Edward S. Curtis titled “Watching the Dancers.”  It shows Hopi maidens looking out and down toward the plaza area where the dancers were performing.   The card below has a 1901 photograph by Adam Clark Vroman and shows the front view of a Hopi maiden with the same hairstyle. 


Hopi maiden, Hoo-n-ym-pka, 1901
[photo:  Adam Clark Vroman]

If the style looks a little familiar it is probably because a modified version of it was used for Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies.  Young unmarried Hopi women wore this style called Squash Blossom or Butterfly Whorl.  The hair is parted and wound around a U shaped wooden hoop in a figure 8 pattern, tied in the middle, then spread or fanned out to make the circle shape.  The description of how it was accomplished reminded me of making pom-poms out of yarn.  They are also wound around a shape, cardboard usually, tied off, and then spread out to make round balls.  The rather complicated hairstyle required a helper and presumably some time to get it just right.  I do not know how often it was unwound and redone but it would have needed at least some repair work after sleeping on it or following hair washing. 

Edward Sheriff Curtis, 1868-1952, spent 30 years photographing and recording Native American people of the western United States.  He carried this camera, glass photo plates, and the tripod with him in his travels.  

With over 40,000 images he filled 20 volumes chronicling the Native Americans.  Many of the scenes were re-enactments staged for the pictures by people who were alive when the events were experienced and could remember the dances, poses, and costumes. 

Curtis’s work started in the 1890s and ended in the 1920s.  A sense of urgency accompanied him especially in the later years when the native people were adopting western European dress and life-styles.  He wanted to record a vanishing life and people before it became totally gone by assimilation into the new emerging American culture.   He used a variety of photo developing techniques and was criticized by some for doing too much manipulation of the images. 

Some of his ethnological ideas and stereotyping may seem odd or offensive to us today but his photographs are beautiful and without them much of the western pictorial history would not exist.  A comment from one man regarding the discovery of an unexpected picture of his grandmother at age 18 was that he had only known her as a very old woman who lived nearly 100 years, full of wrinkles and very tiny in size.  The picture of her as a young woman he treasures as he never imagined he would see her like that.  

Adam Clark Vroman, 1856-1916, took photographs of the Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo people from 1895 to 1904 and is sometimes referred to as the photographer of the Southwest.  His aim was to humanize rather than romanticize the people.  The most complete collection of his photographs can be found in the Pasadena Public Library.

Most of the images on this wall in the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) are part of the Curtis collection.

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