Pioneer Square is the historic centre of Seattle, rebuilt after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. It was the city’s heart of industry with the first lumber mill, where the phrase skid road/row was coined due to the logs being skidded down the road from the mill. The beautiful brick buildings of the area are the largest concentration of Romanesque architecture in the United States. Today, these buildings are home to galleries, antique stores, book shops, rug galleries, bike shops, restaurants and cafes.
Two galleries I stumbled into had particularly interesting exhibitions. The Jackson Street Gallery was showing photographs by Edward S Curtis. Curtis was a photographer who set out on an ambitious project to compile a 20 volume work of photographs documenting the Native Americans in the early 1900s. The work was based on subscription to the set. He failed to secure enough subscriptions and funding and it took around 20 years to finally complete his project. By this time, he had faded into obscurity and this type of photography had gone out of fashion. Few copies of his work remain today, and now fetch very high prices. Complete sets of the 20 volume work sell in the millions. The exhibition showcases many examples of Curtis’ photographs.
Davidson Galleries is currently showing an exhibition of hand-coloured lithographs from John J Audubon’s mid 19th century works Birds of America and The Quadrupeds of North America. Like Curtis’ work, these folios were produced based on subscription, with Birds of America now holding the record for the world’s most expensive book. There are only 120 copies remaining intact, with one of them held in Melbourne’s State Library of Victoria.
It is Melbourne Rare Book Week back home, so it seemed serendipitous to find both of these exhibitions by chance while exploring Seattle.