The Outsider and the Native Eye: The Photographs of Richard Throssel

Created by Valerie Daniels, May 2002

Introduction | The Vanishing Race | A Member of the Tribe | Professional Photographer | Resources

The Vanishing Race

Joseph Henry Sharp | Edward Curtis
The Wannamaker Exhibitions | Portrait Gallery

The Romantic Paintings of Joseph Henry Sharp

Joseph Henry Sharp was one of the founders of the Taos Society of Artists, a group of painters who tried to capture the Western experience, especially through romantic images of American Indians. Sharp and his contemporaries often reverted to stereotypical images of American Indians, and often created a kind of "composite Indian," rather than studying cultural differences among tribes. He opened a studio near the Crow Reservation in Montana in 1902, and became an early artistic influence on Richard Throssel. Throssel took both painting lessons from Sharp, and became interested in photography after Sharp's own interest of combining the two media. Below are two of the more than two hundred paintings that Sharp produced while working on the Crow Reservation. In addition to landscape paintings and portraits, Sharp also painted scenes of tribal life.


Joseph Henry Sharp,
From the University of Montana Museum of Fine Arts

Left, Winter on the Little Big Horn, 1905
From the C.M. Russel Museum,
Great Falls, Montana

Right, Portrait of a Crow Girl in an Elk Tooth Dress, Undated
From the University of Montana
Museum of Fine Arts

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Meeting Edward Curtis

Adolph Muhr, Portrait of Edward Curtis
From Anne Makepeace, Coming To Light

Although it was Joseph Henry Sharp who first inspired Richard Throssel to pick up a camera, it was Edward Curtis who taught him the most about photography. Throssel met Curtis in 1905 when Curtis came to the Crow Reservation to work on his 20-volume work, The North American Indian. They became friends, and Curtis invited him to his studio in Seattle, and about a month later to the Portland Fair, where Curtis took him through the art exhibits to show him the best work. Curtis taught Throssel much about photography techniques and aesthetics. After meeting him Throssel wrote that he "plainly saw that it was in the finishing and the getting the light (Albright 26)." Sharp and Curtis, Throssel's artistic mentors, both bought into the myth of the Vanishing Indian and used their art to romanticize a traditional way of life that they feared was disappearing. Although Throssel was a Cree Indian and an adopted Crow Indian, his photographs, influenced by Sharp and especially by Curtis, also participate in that myth by taking on the themes and stylistic choices that were its markers. Pictured below are some of Throssel's photographs that show the most stylistic resemblance to those of Edward Curtis.


Sunrise on Custer's Battlefield, 1911
Richard Throssel Collection, American Heritage Center
University of Wyoming, Not numbered
In Albright, Crow Indian Photographer

The Three Scouts, 1908
Richard Throssel Collection, American Heritage Center
University of Wyoming, Not numbered
In Native Nations

The Sentinel, 1907
Richard Throssel Collection,
American Heritage Center
University of Wyoming, Photo no. 319
In Albright, Crow Indian Photographer
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The Wannamaker Exhibitions

Throssel, along with Curtis and several other photographers, contributed his images to the various Wannamaker expeditions focusing on the Crow Indians. Joseph Dixon, who took the photograph of Throssel on the right, visited the Crow Reservation in 1908 in order to collect photographs that would be combined with lectures to celebrate "the glorious Indian past, the pathos of their present life, and the certainty that they will vanish in the near future (Albright 30)." In addition to this 1908 exhibition, the Dixon-Wannamaker team also produced a film based on the Hiawatha story in 1908, arranged the Last Great Indian Council in 1909 and published the songs, speeches, stories, and images from this event in The Vanishing Race in 1913. Although Throssel's photos did not appear in The Vanishing Race, the photo on the right tells us that he continued to work with Dixon after the 1908 exhibition, and it is likely that some of his images were taken during Dixon-Wannamaker events. Pictured below are two of the forty-two images that Throssel supplied to the 1908 exhibition.


Joseph Dixon, Throssel Photographing Pretty River, 1909
Wannamaker Collection, Mathers Museum
Indiana University, Photo no. W2318
In Albright, Crow Indian Photographer

Baby and Biscuit,
1908
Wannamaker Collection,
Mathers Museum
Indiana University,
Photo no. W5875
In Albright,
Crow Indian Photographer


Waiting for Rations, ca. 1905
Wannamaker Collection, Mathers Museum
Indiana University, Photo no. W5952
In Albright, Crow Indian Photographer
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Portrait Gallery

Throssel and Curtis both took many portraits of Crow Indians. Enter the Portrait Gallery to view side by side portraits of the same people taken by Throssel and Curtis.*

Left, Richard Throssel, Plenty Coups, 1905
Richard Throssel Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming
In Northern, To Image and to See

Right, Edward Curtis, Plenty Coups - Apsaroke, 1909
The North American Indian volume 4

* Note: All of the portraits by Edward Curtis are from the Library of Congress American Memory site, Edward S. Curtis's The North American Indian


A Member of the Tribe


Introduction | The Vanishing Race | A Member of the Tribe | Professional Photographer | Resources