One of the exquisite portraits in Edward S Curtis’s The North American Indian

I recently read Timothy Egan’s book about Seattle photographer Edward S. Curtis who is known for his iconic Indian portraits.  Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher:  The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis tells the story of Curtis’s life-long obsession with documenting as much as he could about North American Indian life and culture before the traditional tribal ways died out or were eradicated.  Curtis had a grand vision to publish a 20-volume set, The North American Indian, of his photographs and his findings.

The volumes were sold by subscription at a price of $3000 in 1907 when the first volume was published.  Curtis intended to sell 500 sets, but fell far short.  Only 220 sets were sold.  Completing all 20 volumes was a constant financial struggle, and Curtis worked on the project from 1907 to 1930.

Those of us who live in Seattle are fortunate in that the Seattle Public Library purchased subscription # 38 and now holds this historic set in its Special Collections.  You can see it, but by appointment only, as the library has special procedures in place to safeguard this valuable resource.  I recently spent 1-1/2 hours with librarian Jodee Fenton, who showed me Volumes 7 and 8 and their accompanying portfolios of plates.

Leather-bound volumes 7 and 8 of The North American Indian by Edward S Curtis

The Seattle Public Library purchased # 38 of this limited-edition set — 20 volumes published between 1907 and 1930.

Each of the books is about 12 x 10 inches and is printed on high-quality Japanese Imperial paper.  Curtis included 1506 photographic plates in the 20 volumes, and each book has an accompanying portfolio of larger format loose prints.

One of Edward S Curtis’s Indian portraits, Nine Pipes (Flathead)

Paging through Volume 7 in the Seattle Room of the Special Collections, Seattle Public Library

One of the prints from the accompanying portfolios

The portfolio prints were on thick paper stock

Unusual night-time portrait by Edward S. Curtis

Edward S Curtis portrait of native woman

To make an appointment to see the Seattle Public Library’s volumes of The North American Indian, contact Jodee Fenton, Special Collections librarian at 206-386-4610 or email her at  If you don’t live near Seattle, or if you prefer to view this amazing work online, you will find text and images in the Library of Congress’s digital collection at this link.








“Cities have always offered anonymity, variety, and conjunction, qualities best basked in by walking:  one does not have to go into the bakery or the fortune-teller’s, only to know that one might.  A city always contains more than any inhabitant can know, and a great city always makes the unknown and the possible spurs to the imagination.”
— Rebecca Solnit, A History of Walking

Today I attended a workshop at the Seattle Public Library downtown, and I decided I would walk from my house.  It’s only 5-1/2 miles, but I had never before walked downtown to work.  I chose a direct route down Eastlake Avenue, which parallels the east shore of Lake Union.  The street does not run right along the water, but I got brief views at each intersection, where I could see down to the lake.  It was a clear, sunny day, but I walked on the shady side of the street and did not get too hot.

Here are some of the things I saw along the way:

Crossing I-5 on 45th Street NE. Heavy traffic going into downtown.

On clear days, Mount Rainier dominates the horizon.

Statue of Sadako and the thousand origami cranes near the University Bridge

After crossing the University Bridge, I could smell fresh bread from this bakery.

Rolled croissants, ready to rise

Fresh baguettes, Le Fournil Bakery

I kept passing these sidewalk plaques on Eastlake Ave E. They showed various microorganisms native to Lake Union. I learned later that they are the creation of artist Stacy Levy.

"The Vessel" by Ed Carpenter, a sculpture at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, South Lake Union

Reflections on the sidewalk from The Vessel sculpture

One of the figures from Akio Takamon's "Three Women" sculpture outside Whole Foods Market, South Lake Union

I arrived downtown after walking two hours.  I had an hour before my workshop started, so I decided to check out the Chihuly glass installations in public locations in downtown Seattle.

Persian glass installation by Dale Chihuly, on the mezzanine of the City Centre building on 5th Avenue

Detail from glass installation at City Centre

An installation of Flower Forms in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel

Detail of Chihuly's Flower Forms, Sheraton Hotel

One of two glass chandeliers by Dale Chihuly in Benaroya Hall

"Crystal Cascade" chandelier by Dale Chihuly

Detail of glass chandelier at Benaroya Hall

All too soon, it was time to report to work at the library.

Seattle Public Library, Central Branch downtown Seattle, designed by Rem Koolhaas

Interior, Seattle Public Library

Escalator, Seattle Public Library

Another escalator, Seattle Public Library

“As the centerpiece of a cherished ritual, it’s a talisman against the chill of winter, a respite from the ho-hum routine of the day.”
     — Sarah Engler, “Tea Up,” Real Simple February 2006

Tray of teacups at the Panama Hotel Tea Room

Sharing a pot of Jasmine Pearl Tea at the Panama Hotel Tea Room

Last week my friend Carol and I took the bus to Seattle’s International District to check out the Panama Hotel.  We weren’t able to tour the Japanese baths as we had hoped, but we did stop in the Tea Room to share a pot of fragrant Jasmine Pearl tea.  We enjoyed drinking our tea in a place of historical significance.  During the forced internment of Japanese citizens during World War II, many families stored trunks and boxes of their possessions in the basement of this hotel.  There is a cut-out in the floor where you can peer down into the basement and see a few vintage artifacts from this time.

A bit earlier in the day, we had stopped by the International District branch of the Seattle Public Library, where we admired an art installation on the wall made up of donated teacups from area residents and businesses.  So we had tea on our minds on this drizzly winter day, and it really hit the spot.

Inside the International District branch of the Seattle Public Library

Wall display of donated teacups

“Tea . . . is a religion of the art of life.”
     — Okakura