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Native American Ledger Art | Plains Pictorial Drawings

Native American Ledger Art | Plains Pictorial Drawings

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Published by Brian Burnett
Native American Studies | Teaching Guide: Introduction for exploring ledger art (Plains pictorial art). General overview for all grades.
Native American Studies | Teaching Guide: Introduction for exploring ledger art (Plains pictorial art). General overview for all grades.

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Published by: Brian Burnett on Jun 27, 2012
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Ledger Art Talking Points
Teacher Workshop, 11.12.11
Teacher WorkshopLedger Art Talking PointsDraft-Mandy Foster 1 11/11/2011
Plains Pictorial Drawings
In Native languages there is usually no word for “art” although designs and decorationson clothing, utilitarian,,and personal objects may be classified as such today.Beautification of objects served many purposes, one being a form of personalexpression; Plains pictorial drawings are an example of this.
Pictorial drawings done by various cultures of the Great Plains date back centuries andcan be found painted on stone, bone, and hides. They can be categorized in three ways:
Drawings which tell stories of personal experiences such as huntingand military exploits, courtships, ceremonial, and social events
Record Keeping:
Drawings which specifically recount events of historicalimportance, often these are used as mnemonic devices or calendar systems
Drawings of personal spiritual experiences such as those encounteredduring vision quests or in dreams
Typically, in Plains societies, pictorial drawings were done only by men
Natural earth pigments such as iron ore, red and yellow ochre, and zinc wereused to paint with among other minerals and plants
The colors red, yellow, black and white are commonly used among Plainspeople and many consider these colors sacred and have spiritual meaning
Bone, stone, and wood implements were used to apply the paints to the surfaceof the hide, stone or bone. The vertebrae bones near the hump of the bisonmake a good paint brush because they are porous and soak up paint.
Pictorial drawings are not a uniform system of writing; each person recorded eventsdifferently and symbols could have different meanings among culture groups
Figures are drawn abstractly, not to scale, and are two-dimensional
Human figures are often drawn in a frontal or side view with little detail to theform
Greater detail on personal regalia and weaponry often identify theperson or tribe they are from; for example, the way a person’s hair isdrawn may signify tribal identify.
Feet turned to one side indicate movement in that direction
Action elements include animal footprints, bullet lines, etc.
In some cases, there is little concern for spatial elements and events may be scatteredacross a hide
In others, such as calendar syst
ms, pictures are placed in specificarrangements to convey relationships of time
Ledger Art Talking Points
Teacher Workshop, 11.12.11
Teacher WorkshopLedger Art Talking PointsDraft-Mandy Foster 2 11/11/2011
What is Ledger Art?
Ledger art is a form of Plains pictorial art that dates back a little over a century. Itsorigins began roughly between 1860 – 1900 and it continues today in the genre of fineart
The term “ledger” refers to a type of paper or book used for record keeping which wasintroduced to Natives by Europeans
These papers became the canvas for pictorial drawings by Plains men of varioustribes
 Major Transitions in Plains Culture
During the period from 1860 – 1900 major changes occurred in the daily lives of Plainspeople
As westward expansion progressed through Plains territories, conflicts arosebetween Native tribes and encroaching Europeans. Battles, raids and wars werecontinuous and led to the involvement of the U.S. military in a plight to removetribes from their traditional lands
By 1880, most tribes were forcefully relocated onto reservation lands, theirtraditional way of life forever altered. Access to resources was often denied orunavailable.
By 1900, Buffalo were hunted and slaughtered to near extinction, thus forcingPlains people to rely on rations issued by the U.S. government. The beginning of the reservation era brought an entirely different lifestyle to the people of theplains.
Emergence of Ledger Art
By 1860, Plains people were growing accustom to utilizing goods acquired through tradewith Europeans. Men incorporated these new materials such as ink, colored pencils andlater, watercolors into their pictorial drawings.
As conflicts arose with Europeans, Plains men continued recording these eventsas they unfolded, utilizing the new materials acquired through trade
Ledger Art Talking Points
Teacher Workshop, 11.12.11
Teacher WorkshopLedger Art Talking PointsDraft-Mandy Foster 3 11/11/2011
In 1875, at the end of the Southern Plains Wars, U.S. troops captured 72 influentialleaders from the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Caddo and Comanche and imprisonedthem at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, FL until 1878.
It was here that prisoners were encouraged to recount their personal stories andtribal histories using the pictorial drawings with whatever resources wereavailable.
Prisoners were given pencils, pens, and watercolors to recount their experiencesin ledger books, autograph books, and sketchbooks. Many of the books hadbeen previously used and the men simply drew over the writing.
Accounts were made of daily life in the prison camps as well as memories of tribal life, celebrations, and ceremonies. Men often recorded their newexperiences and surroundings including observations of western daily life, citiesand technology, as well as the conditions of oppression and assimilation to whichthey were subjected.
By 1900, the diminishment and unavailability of natural resources forced assimilationand adaptation of Plains people to westernized society. Old traditions of narrativepictorial drawing on hides were transformed with the use of new materials. Today thistype of activity is known as Ledger Art.
As assimilation policy toward Native people continued through the first half of the 20
 century, people struggled to balance these changes with their traditional culture.
Many children were removed from the community and taken to boardingschools where they were taught European language, culture, religion, andindustry.
However, the technique of narrative pictorial drawing of traditional culturecontinued and in some cases was encouraged and flourished within theseinstitutes such as the Santa Fe Indian School; a boarding school founded in 1890in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
In 1932, a teacher at Santa Fe Indian School named Dorothy Dunn opened “TheStudio,” a painting program designed for Native students to create workinfluenced by their cultural traditions. Here, the pictorial one-dimensional style

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