Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians

Piece from Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians

Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians

Bellarmine Hall Galleries

September 27 - December 20, 2017

In the second half of the nineteenth century, artists from the Plains Indian peoples (Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and others dwelling in the Western United States and Canada) produced an extraordinarily rich and distinctive body of drawings chronicling battles, rituals, and winsome if sometimes jarring events of everyday life. Known as Ledger Drawings because they were done on the pages of commercially produced account books, these striking images, many bearing pictographic signatures, are executed in ink, graphite, and colored pencil and watercolor. Some favor flat, stylized forms and a stark economy of means, while others show a lyrical predilection for rhythmic movement, minute descriptive and narrative detail, and dense, mosaic-like surface patterns. What all share is their makers' acute powers of observation and ambition to record and describe recognizable people, places, things and events-to eloquently picture and record history as it transpired.

Ledger Drawings are virtually unknown other than to a small group of specialists and cognoscenti, and with rare exceptions they have been studied foremost as anthropological and ethnographic documents rather than as artistic creations. Yet the medium-pencil and watercolor on paper-as well as the function and absorbing subject matter align these works with the centuries long western artistic practice of drawing "stories." The images find an equally resonant context in the venerable tradition of picture chronicles, which extends back even further in time. Featuring some fifty Ledger Drawings, this exhibition presents these evocative works as graphic masterpieces in the long and rich history of drawing.

Click here to listen to the audioguide narrated by Michelle DiMarzo, Curator of Education, citing the published work of Dr. Janet C. Berlo and Dr. Ross Frank, two of the leading experts on Ledger art.

The exhibition and related programs are made possible by generous support from the Donald Ellis Gallery.

Photo credit: Cheyenne Attacking a Pawnee Camp (Ledger Drawing), ca. 1875-78. Attributed to Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne, Central Plains). Watercolor, graphite and colored pencil on paper; 8 ½ x 11 ¼ inches. Private collection, courtesy of Donald Ellis Gallery, New York.