HANOVER, NH.- A new exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, reveals the impact of ledger drawings on transformations in Native American pictorial arts from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Picturing Change: The Impact of Ledger Drawings on Native American Ar, will be on view from December 11, 2004, through May 15, 2005. The works in this exhibition illustrate how Native American artists adopted and adapted Western materials, methods, and conventions to their own artistic traditions, inventing new art forms that comment upon and document cultural transitions brought on by Western education and cultural domination.
There will be an opening lecture and reception for Picturing Change on Wednesday, January 12, at 5:30 p.m. in the Arthur M. Loew Auditorium. Candace Greene, curator at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, will present a talk entitled "Road Trip: To and from Fort Marion." A reception will follow in Kim Gallery.
Historically, figurative arts among the Plains Indians of North America chronicled the life of warriors and chiefs and their experiences of war, hunting, religious ceremony, and courtship. These abstract visual narratives were created on rock, buffalo hides, robes, and tipis. Between the 1850s and the 1870s these Native American warriors experienced tremendous upheaval when increased contact and conflict with European Americans led to massive bloodshed and to the transformation of everyday life on the Plains. Through both peaceful and violent means, warrior-artists acquired ledger books, cloth, ink, pencils, and colored pencils, and later notebooks, sketchbooks, muslin, and watercolors with which they visually recorded their historical past and the tumultuous confrontations of the present.
When the Southern Plains Indian Wars ended in 1875, U.S. troops captured seventy-two of the most influential Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Caddo, and Comanche chiefs and warriors and imprisoned them at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, until 1878. Unexpectedly, their internment supported ledger drawing as a popular genre of Native arts. Prisoners were supplied with pencils, crayons, pens, watercolors, ledger books, autograph booklets, and sketchbooks and encouraged to draw their memories and recent experiences. These artists increasingly moved away from their pre-reservation artistic repertoire to observations of landscapes, cityscapes, education, regimentation, and their own process of assimilation.
While nineteenth-century warrior-artists documented the impact of conflict, captivity, and cultural domination in their ledger drawings, their twentieth-century descendents continued to use visual narratives on paper as a stepping stone into mainstream American fine arts practices. Today, many contemporary artists look back to the ledger drawings of their forefathers to create art that critiques America's contested histories while also reconciling themselves to the cultural genocide of the past.
According to Barbara Thompson, Curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Collections at the Hood, "The art in this exhibition not only portrays the incredible perseverance of Native American arts and culture under extreme conditions of cultural suppression but also the creative force behind visual narratives as a means of renewal and healing."
Picturing Change: The Impact of Ledger Drawing on Native American Art was organized by the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College. The exhibition and its accompanying brochure were generously funded by the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Hall Fund. The Hood Museum of Art thanks all of the lenders to this exhibition; Lesley Wilson, Assistant Librarian at the St. Augustine Historical Society; and Candace S. Greene, Collections and Archives Resource Officer at the Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.