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E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits, Paintings

Identifier: VAULT.oversize-Ayer-Art-Burbank.Paint

Scope and Content of the Collection

This collection is composed of twenty-five oil on canvas and oil on panel paintings of varying sizes, each housed individually in a custom box. The original box order and numbering system has been maintained.


  • Creation: 1897-1908



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits, Paintings are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 painting at a time maximum, proper painting handling procedures strictly enforced (Priority I).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits, Paintings are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections.

Biography of E. A. Burbank

American painter and illustrator.

Elbridge Ayer Burbank was born in 1858 in Harvard, Illinois. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and in Germany, where he developed his technique in life drawing and portraiture. At first specializing in African American subjects, in 1897 Burbank was commissioned by his uncle Edward E. Ayer, to do a series of portraits of prominent Indian chiefs in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona. Accepting the commission, Burbank began his career as an Indian portrait authority. He painted Apache Chief Geronimo five times and was purported to be the only artist to paint the old warrior from life. This began his most productive and successful period as a painter of American Indians.

By 1902, Burbank was roaming the west and southwest, seeking out the native peoples, painting and drawing. He depicted not only the great chiefs but also ordinary individuals, groups and ceremonies of more and 125 tribes. Burbank made friends wherever he traveled, among them was Juan Lorenzo Hubbell of the famed Hubbell Trading Post, a hub for artists, ethnologists and tourists. There he did red conté crayon drawings of Navajos and many of the patterns for their rugs.

During the Depression, Burbank supported himself by drawing and selling scenes for postcards and greeting cards, pictures of famous Americans, and copies of his Indian studies. His reproductions were inexpensive, and were widely distributed and collected. His last years were spent at the Manx Hotel in San Francisco, where he died in 1949, after having been struck by a cable car.


24 Linear Feet (25 custom boxes)


Collection of twenty-five oil paintings on canvas and panel executed by E. A. Burbank during the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Predominately composed of intimately-scaled portraits of American Indian men and women, this collection offers invaluable insight into the pictorial depiction of the American Indian during the turn of the twentieth century as well as the cultural cache attached to the depiction of native subjects.


Materials in original order.

Collection Stack Location

VAULT 50 6


Gift, Edward E. Ayer.

Processed by

Gordon Dearborn Wilkins, 2015.

Inventory of the E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits, Paintings, 1897-1908
Gordon Dearborn Wilkins
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 8/4/2020: Revisions, additions, and updates were made.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States