Unveiling The Julia E. Tuell Photography Collection
Photographs, Negatives, Glass negatives and Equipment To Be Sold In Entirety
Featuring original photos from 1906–1929 of life with the Northern Cheyenne & Rosebud Sioux Tribes, this collection has frozen a pivotal moment in time of tribal adjustment to reservation life. Not only are the photos of historical significance, but the photographer is as well.
Julia E. Tuell, young teenage wife of a school teacher, mother to four children, missionary and nurse, extensively photographed sacred ceremonies normally off limits to white people and the raw events of daily life. Julia packed her eight-by-ten-inch glass-plate Eastman Kodak camera and tripod with her nearly everywhere she went, often with children in tow.
Julia came to know and photograph warriors and families that had fought at the battle of the Little Bighorn, and experienced the tragic massacre at Wounded Knee. She came to be trusted by members of several tribes during this gut-wrenching era for Native Americans. Much of the collection is documentary in form, while some of it is more personal. In some photos, you can see amusement in the faces of her subjects as they observed this young mother taking their portrait, and in other photos, you’ll see them holding and posing with Julia’s children.
Author Dan Aadland chronicled this, and much more of Julia’s work and life in his 1996 family-authorized biography, Women and Warriors of the Plains. Dan Aadland worked closely with Julia’s son, Varble Tuell. Varble, Julia’s youngest child, passed away on April 18, 2011, at the age of 97. Varble Tuell handed his mother’s treasured collection to his four children. They have kept the sizable collection in secure storage in Billings, Montana. Realizing the historical significance of their grandmother’s collection, they would like to see it reach its full potential with the right collector.
This entire private collection of 1750 to 2000 pieces has never been open to the public. At the request of Julia E. Tuell and her family, her collection is to remain intact. The collection was appraised in 2016 by Timothy Gordon Appraisals, A.O.A., Missoula, MT, who specializes in the appraisal of historical photography.
Julia E. Tuell’s early day Montana photographic record of both the Northern Cheyenne people and the Sioux of the Pine Ridge Reservation has only been cursorily revealed to historians, academics, museums and collectors through the book, Women and Warriors of the Plains – The Pioneer Photography of Julia E. Tuell, written by Dan Aadland and published in 1996.
Other than this single volume and the small number of extremely rare photographic prints produced during her lifetime, the majority of Tuell’s work has yet to be revealed to the world. This archive of her work containing approximately 1750-2000 items is owned by her descendants, who have carefully preserved her legacy for the nearly 60 years since her death in 1960. Over half of the items in this collection are unique, and are probably the only copies remaining in the world. The bulk of the photographer’s work remains unknown and unseen by the world.
Were this complete personal collection – Julia Tuell’s personal record of photographic prints and negatives, brought to the public forum, the collection would certainly be viewed as a major artistic and cultural rediscovery for Western historians, native peoples of Montana and South Dakota, and art photography experts alike.
It is extremely rare for any of Tuell’s images to have surfaced within the marketplace within sales of similar historic material. When they do emerge, collector interest is extremely active. In 2009, a group of nineteen of Tuell’s smaller (3 ¼” x 5 ½”) photo prints were sold at Cowan’s Auctions of Cleveland for $21,150.
With this rarity in mind, I have valued this collection by comparing recorded sales of her works, as well as sales records for works by her Montana photographer contemporaries, (which are more readily found within the marketplace). Some of these artists include Laton A. Huffman, Evelyn Cameron, Richard Throssel, R.H. McKay, Roland Reed and T.J. Hileman. Most of her contemporaries were active during the same time period, i.e. from 1900-1928, yet for the most part they were not given the unique cultural access by the tribes that Julia Tuell enjoyed. Her role as school matron for the Indian children and her strong advocacy for their needs, allowed her to gain trust, respect and thereby access to photograph private moments, personal relationships and secret ceremonies.
Tuell was one of only three or four intrepid female photographers of the west in the early 20th century who worked with native subjects in their daily environment.
Appraisal by Timothy Gordon Appraisals, AOA. 2717 Highland Dr., Missoula, MT 59802. 4-19-16