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E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits, Drawings

Identifier: Oversize-Ayer-Art-Burbank.Drawings

Scope and Content of the Collection

Each portrait sheet measures approximately 15 inches by 10 inches and all are matted to a uniform dimension of 20 inches by 15 inches. Names, tribal affiliations, locations, and dates for the majority of the drawings were included with the portraits by Burbank and reflect the artist’s rather eccentric and inconsistent phonetic spelling. Where possible, tribal and place names have been standardized in order to facilitate access to the collection. Content lists for individual boxes have been retained and can be located at the front of each box.


  • Creation: approximately 1897-1914



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits, Drawings are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits, Drawings 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.


124.3 Linear Feet (71 custom boxes)


Collection of over 1200 red and brown conté crayon on paper portraits of assorted American Indian subjects drawn during E. A. Burbank’s extensive travel to American Indian communities throughout the American Southwest, West, and Northwest. Commissioned to paint a portrait of Chief Geronimo by his maternal uncle, Edward E. Ayer, the Newberry benefactor and president of the Field Columbian Museum, Burbank embarked in 1897 on what would turn out to be a decades-long, quixotic quest to “paint every single Indian tribe in America.” Though ultimately unsuccessful, Burbank was able to paint and draw individuals from more than 125 tribes, documenting and providing lasting insight into the culture and history of Indigenous populations. Though Burbank and his contemporaries sought to 'salvage' what they considered a 'disappearing culture,' in fact, Native people have remained in spite of decades of assimilation policies that would follow their forced removal and containment onto reservations during this period.


The drawings in this collection are housed in 71 numbered boxes containing 14 to 20 drawings per box and are consecutively numbered from 01 to 06, then 1 to 1236.

Collection Stack Location

2 44 5-8


Gift, Edward E. Ayer.

Processed by

Gordon Dearborn Wilkins, 2015.

Inventory of the E. A. Burbank Indian Portraits, Drawings, approximately 1897-1914
Gordon Dearborn Wilkins
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

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

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States