Thunder or Spirit Being
Black Hawk (Sans Arc Lakota)
Plains Ledger Art Project via Wikimedia Commons

"Judge not by the eye but from the heart." —Cheyenne saying
Plains Indians drew on rock, bark and hides of animals decorating walls, teepees and clothing. During the mid- to late-19th century, traders and explorers introduced Native American artists to pencils, crayons and watercolors. Paper, too.

In the midst of the American Indian Wars, Plains Indians began to make some drawings and paintings on miscellaneous paper — most notably ledger paper for accounting by traders and military officers. These Plains Indian drawings on paper are now called Ledger Art.

As a result of the Wars, Native American Indians were removed to reservations. In the case of the Plains Indians, a group of 72 chiefs and warriors were sent to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida under the charge of Captain Richard Henry Pratt.
"Kill the Indian, Save the Man." —Richard Henry Pratt
To implement this philosophy, Pratt provided the imprisoned chiefs and warriors with drawing, painting and crafts materials to foster a civilizing trade. He then founded the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania where he further developed his civilizing programs for Native Americans.

The most exciting and comprehensive project on Ledger Art is being produced online at Plains Indian Ledger Art Project, funded by the University of California San Diego Ethnics Department under the guidance of Ross Frank, Associate Professor. Visit this awesome site and plan on spending some time looking and learning.

Ledger Art Exhibits and Books

The Smithsonian created extensive online documentation for the recent exhibit "Keeping History: Plains Indian Ledger Drawings” in its Albert H. Small Documents Gallery. Read a little write up by Art Knowledge News.

Julian Scott, Kiowa, "Honoring Song at Painted Tipi," 1880
Pencil, ink and colored pencil, 7 1/2 x 12 inches
Collection Mr. and Mrs. Charles Diker

Plains Indian Drawings, 1865-1935: Pages from a Visual History was the first large scale exhibit of this work organized in 1996-97 by The Drawing Center and The American Federation of Arts. Janet Catherine Berlo describes that exhibit, how new materials were acquired and the influence of western art and photography for her article Plains Indian Drawings in the Spring 1997 issue of Tribal Arts.

Evan M. Maurer, former Director of The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, curated a 1992 exhibit of Plains Indian Art that featured examples of Ledger Art. The catalogue for that exhibit is Visions of the People: A Pictorial History of Plains Indian Life.

Joyce Szabo, Professor of Art History at the University of New Mexico focuses her study and teaching on Native American Art. Her book Art from Fort Marionwas published last year by University of Oklahoma Press. University of New Mexico Press published Szabo's Howling Wolf and the History of Ledger Artin 1994. See Sari Krosinsky's brief article on Szabo in UNM Today.

From Whence It Came

Buffalo hide painting
Villasur and his men were quickly surrounded by the Pawnee and killed. 1720
Palace of the Governors Collections, Museum of New Mexico

"If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have made me so in the first place. It is not necessary for eagles to be crows." —Sitting Bull, Teton Lakota (Sioux)
These eagles dressed as crows left us many sights to see. Take your time. There's a lot to look at.

More Ledger Art Resources and Information

Between Two Cultures: Kiowa Art from Fort Marion,1989.

Images of a Vanished Life: Plains Indian Drawings from the Collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1985.