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Picturing Change: The Impact of Ledger Drawings on Native American Art

December 11, 2004 - May 15, 2005


Official Report of the Ninteenth Annual Conference of Charities and Correction (1892), 46-59. Reprinted in Richard H. Pratt, "The Advantages of Mingling Indians with Whites," Americanizing the American Indians: Writings by the "Friends of the Indian" 1880-1900 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973), 260-271.
"Our forefathers' deeds touch us, shape us, like strokes of a painting.
In endless procession their deeds mark us. The Elders speak knowingly of forever."
-- James Auchiah, Kiowa Five Member
Fine Arts Education and the Native Artist
After their return, some of the ledger artists from Fort Marion provided guidance to younger reservation artists in drawing and painting. As was begun at Fort Marion, the move toward pan-Indianism in Native American arts especially increased after the 1880s in the reservation environment as artists produced genre and nostalgic paintings for sale Euro-American patron collectors. By the end of the 19th century, as art education curricula based on mainstream Western art was aggressively promoted in Indian mission and government run boarding schools, there was a decided decline in the production of ledger. It wasn't until the around 1917, with the resurgence of interest in Native cultures that Plains pictorial arts re-emerged with Indian figurative painting becoming a recognized genre of fine art toward the ends of the 1920s, when a new generation of reservations artists -- led by five young Kiowa painters who were given formal art instruction -- began to produce modern Indian paintings made specifically for sale to fine arts collectors. The history of these five young Kiowa painters from the Anadarko area of Oklahoma in the southern Plains was pivotal in the further development of modern Indian painting nationwide.
While teaching art at the St. Patrick's Mission School in Anadarko, Oklahoma, Sister Olivia Taylor, a Choctaw, and Susie Peters, a field matron with the US Indian Services, noticed the potential talent of five Kiowa youths. Peters started art classes at Anadarko her expense in 1918. Subsequently when they reached college age in 1927 and 192, she sent these young Kiowa men, James Auchiah (1906 -1974), Spencer Asah (1905 or 1910-1954), Jack Hokeah (1902- 1969), Stephen Mopope (1898- 1974), and Monroe Tsatoke (1904- 1937), to Professor Oscar Jacobson at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma. The group later became nationally and internationally known as the Kiowa Five and their success as the first modernist Native artists paved the way for the development of the Oklahoma school of painting and subsequent generations of notable Plains artists. The trend reached across the continent and when in 1932, the artist and art educator Dorothy Dunn established the Studio for Native Painting at the Santa Fe Indian School, she helped bring together local and national movements to formulate a painting genre that catered to an international market for what came to be known as the Indian School of painting.
The Oklahoma style of painting developed by the Kiowa Five is known for its representational, narrative images that feature ceremonial and social scenes of Kiowa life using broad areas of earthen colors reminiscent of the Kiowa landscape and brightly designed ceremonial attire. The Santa Fe style promoted by Dorothy Dunn was based on her notion of the "naturalistic," that is, authentic style of Native American painting techniques derived from the combination of Pueblo pottery designs, kiva murals, as well as hide paintings and the "transitional" art genre par excellence, ledger drawings, from the Plains. As in ledger art, both the Oklahoma and Santa Fe painting schools combined traditional with Western pictorial techniques. Both were characterized by outlined figures with little or no modeling, open compositions lacking perspective or spatial cues, and images of remembered historical events and Native ceremonies passed on by relatives and tribal elders in oral narratives. Distanced as they were from the realities of traditional life, these first modernist Native artists conveyed a romantic, idealized, and nostalgic representation of a vanished past.
Stephen Mopope, Kiowa, 1898-1974
Araphoe Brave, 1929
Watercolor on paper
Before attending formal art training at the University of Oklahoma with Oscar Jacobsen, Stephen Mopope, as with the other founding members of the Kiowa Five, began his art training out of a traditional artistic heritage and from his own experiences as a professional dancer. "Silverhorn" (1861 ­ 1940), who was an exceptional illustrator of Kiowa myths, was also influential in the work of this younger generation of artists as his pictorial records of Kiowa culture were highly prized and served as an inspiration to Mopope, his nephew.
With Jacobsen's support, Mopope and the Kiowa Five, gained international recognition for their artistic finesse in painting, pottery, and dance. Catering to non-Native tastes for and ideas about the 'essential Indian,' romantic and generic images of Indians, such as Arapahoe Brave, were easily translated into iconic stereotypes of the American Indian that was eagerly consumed by American and European popular culture. Throughout the 1920's and 1930's, the popularity of the Kiowa Five allowed them to travel abroad, following the age-old Kiowa tradition, to "journey to the four corners of the Earth."
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. W.935.1.83
Ma-Pe-Wi (Velino Shije Herrera), Pueblo, 1902-1973
Comanche Dance, before 1930
Watercolor on paper
Ma-Pe-Wi, also known by his Spanish name Velino Shije Herrera, was a pueblo artist who participated in Dorothy Dunn's fine art program at the Santa Fe Indian School. Herrera's work echoes the characteristics of the school's style, which emphasized the shared formal qualities of the Kiowa Five, the first generation of Pueblo modern artists, and decorative elements borrowed from traditional Native arts. Typical of the Santa Fe style, Ma-Pe-Wi uses broad areas of flat color and figures contained by precise contour lines-reminiscent of the figurative and narrative quality of ledger art-to depict his ceremonial dance scenes. Ma-Pe-Wi relies on abstraction and symbolism rather than the naturalism or illusionism promoted in the western-based art curriculum of the first Indian boarding schools. Known for his scenes of pan-tribal ceremonial activities, Ma Pe Wi was referred to as the "singing artist" because as he drew, he would sing songs appropriate for the ceremony he was depicting.
Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; W.935.1.79
Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Crumbo, American, 1912-1989
Buffalo Dancer, not dated
At the age of nineteen, "Woody" Crumbo, as he was commonly called, was given a scholarship to attend the American Indian Institute in Wichita, Kansas, a Presbyterian school for young Indians with exceptional skills. He graduated valedictorian of his class three years later, continuing his education at Wichita University from 1933 to 1936. As with the original members of the Kiowa Five, Woody's skill as an artist was acknowledged by Susie Peters in 1932 but most importantly fostered by his Kiowa friends who encouraged him to enroll at the University of Oklahoma in 1936 to study with Oscar Jacobson for two years. Following the manner of his Kiowa friends, Crumbo-a deeply religious man- united Plains spiritual life, oral history, and traditional culture with western pictorial techniques and materials to communicate the 'essence' of the spiritual American Indian. Crumbo's screenprints and etchings formed the foundations for a major and almost revolutionary development in Indian graphic arts in which woodcuts, lithographs, and monotones widened the national and international interest in Indian Modern art while also expanding the spectrum of media used by Native artists.
Purchased through the Julia L. Whittier Fund. PR.953.66.2

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