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

December 11, 2004 - May 15, 2005

 


 
 
"I was exploring the tradition of ledger art, but I was also thinking of the other, original meaning of ledger: a place for keeping track of sums. . . . It is sort of a bittersweet notion-the whole idea of ledgers, and accounting for what was taken from Indians and what we were given in exchange."
-- Arthur Amiotte, 1995
 
 
Identities Reborn and the Contemporary Native American Artist
 
We now know that the subversive meta-texts apparent in ledger drawings resonate contextually also with works by contemporary Native American artists who deal with both past and present issues of cultural stereotypes, of problems of Indian identity, and schisms of community as a result of the cumulative forces of the past. Many contemporary Native American artists carry on the legacy of ledger art creating new genres of art that reclaim their cultural and historical knowledge from diverse sources. Some artists reconstruct (or deconstruct) tribal and family histories using the developments in ledger art and modernist Indian art movements as their springboard. Others look to nineteenth and early twentieth century photography, ethnographic and historical writings, as well as census and Native registration lists for inspiration. With the widespread use of Indian icons and stereotypes in American popular culture, many Native artists today focus on the commoditization of Indian identity, art and culture and its repercussions on contemporary Native life.
 
As diverse as the works in this section appear to be, the common thread connecting these artists is their use of art to address issues of identity -- be it the self, the family, or the community; to critique America's contested histories and Indian relations; and to encourage reconciliation and healing through humor and irony often fused with unexpected -- and at times contradictory-elements. As with ledger art, the artists in this section incorporate text, image, and documentation into their works as a means for rebuilding shattered cultural worlds that, despite cultural genocide and Western dominance, have persevered for survival, revival, and re-articulation. Both the visual and conceptual power of their art forces the viewer to question history, its makers, and its interpreters. The viewer is encouraged not only to feel the discomfort of cultural stereotypes, racial profiling, and a painful past, but to also account for the silencing of Native voices and cultures.
 
 
Linda Haukaas, Sicanju (Rosebud Sioux), born 1957
Return from War Dance, 2003
Colored pencil, graphite, and ink on ledger book paper
 
Linda Haukaas recreates 19th-century ledger art within a modernized context, often addressing themes not usually dealt with in the historical ledger drawings, such as the life of Native women. Haukaas, who has conducted research on Lakota art in museum archives and collections, breaks new ground as a female ledger artist defying the tradition of this male dominated genre. Using the same drawing media as her ancestors combined with antique ledger paper, which she collects specifically for her work, Haukaas introduces the woman's perspective into ledger art. She creates not only depictions of the ceremonial lives of women and children but often interjects also humorous, political, or ironic twists that critique both historical and contemporary social issues pertaining to Native American populations.
 
Haukaas reveals her affiliations with both with what has been passed down to her from her family and her own research of museum collections of historic pictographic and ledger art. In her drawing Return from War Dance, she depicts five Native American women posed with their backs to the viewer. As in Black Hawk's depiction of a similar scene, the figures are all wearing ceremonial dress and carrying ceremonial staffs specific of their personal, societal, and tribal identities. In Haukaas's drawing, the women's ceremonial clothing is highly decorative with traditional clothing motifs offset by details of ornamentation that allude not just to the history of ledger art but also to Native/non-Native relations, including nationalistic symbols and flags and visual vignettes recalling critical moments of conflict and reconciliation in both historical and contemporary contexts. As Haukaas explains, "Return From War Dance is the dance where women dress in men's clothing and war accoutrements to honor the returning warriors. It is a moving piece. . . this honorific dance should never be forgotten. It is particularly important
given the incredible numbers of Natives who are presently in the military, and the death of Lori Piestewa (Hopi) in Iraq."
 
Purchased through the Alvin and Mary Bert Gutman '40 Acquisition Fund and The Hood Museum of Art Acquisition Fund; D.2004.23
 
 
Linda Haukaas, Sicanju (Rosebud Sioux), born 1957
Manly Heart Woman Stealing Back Horses, 2003
Colored pencil, graphite, and ink on ledger book paper
 
Haukaas's drawing style in Manly Heart Woman Stealing Back Horses recalls the earliest style of Plains pictorial representations when they moved from animal hides to ledger paper. As in historic ledger art, Haukaas starkly juxtaposes the minimalistic representation of her protagonist's facial features with the patterned detailing of her clothing. The x-ray technique with which she overlaps the horses's bodies and the flat rendering of their form are a direct reflection of the earliest conventions of Plains pictographic arts dating from ancient times to the initial developmental phases of ledger art.
 
In this composition, Haukaas's primary protagonist -- untraditionally a female -- is centrally located with the action occurring from right to left. Haukaas creates her mounted protagonist and the group of horses by outlining their forms with simple, flowing lines whose rhythmic movements across the page recreate the tension of the eventful moment: the reprisal of stolen horses. Manly Heart Woman refers to the Lakota society of women who hunted and fought alongside the men. As Haukaas has inscribed on the reverse side of this drawing, "Horses are a metaphor for self. . . taking back self from those who have taken pieces from us." She continues to explain, "Manly Heart Woman Stealing Back Horses is a metaphor for taking back what is mine; those things such as emotions, belief in self, the ability to be compassionate and more. It takes internal strength to face that enemy and steal back what is truly yours. I know this as I worked for the Air Force and went to battle with the institution." Using metaphoric association to create a larger social narrative through this drawing, Haukaas references not only past abuses toward Native American cultures but also addresses the reclamation of identity, strength, and empowerment that is an everyday reality of the Native American present.
 
Purchased through The Hood Museum of Art Acquisitions Fund; D.2004.30
 
 
Terrance Guardipee, Blackfeet, born 1968
Shoots Ahead, 2004
prismacolor on paper
 
Born and raised on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana, Terrance Guardipee celebrates the perseverance of the Plains people in maintaining their cultural identities and the survival of ledger art over the past century as a medium for renewed cultural identity. As the artist notes, "I want my paintings and ledgers to reflect the strength and honor of my Blackfeet ancestors through my use of exciting and modern style while remembering the ancient ways of the Northern Plains of the Pikuni people." Like ledger artists of the nineteenth century, Guardipee's compositions focus on the mounted warrior to celebrate and memorialize the history of the Blackfeet who were known as master riders and horse keepers. However, Guardipee sets himself apart from his artistic forefathers and contemporaries in his use of brilliant colors and modern decorative patterns that jump off the faded pages of antique ledger paper. He purposefully uses the saturated colors of prismacolor water pens and markers, which emulate the watercolor paint preferred by the Indian school painters of the 1930s.
 
Gift of Mark Lansburgh, Class of 1949
 
 
Arthur Amiotte, Oglala Lakota, born 1942
"Saint Agnes" Manderson, S.D. Pine Ridge Rez, 2001
Acrylic collage on canvas
 
In 1988, Arthur Amiotte began a collage series that focuses on the early reservation era when Lakota peoples struggled to maintain their traditions and adjust to Western cultural domination, such as the English language, Christian religion, formal education, and the market economy. Amiotte fuses Native voices of the Lakota past -- his great-grandfather Standing Bear, his grandfather, grandmother, or an anonymous male or female of their generation -- with photographs, historic ledger drawings and his own contemporary ledger art. Using both real and imagined dialogues and images, Amiotte reveals the strangeness and novelty of the western way as it was experienced by his Lakota ancestors who were struggling for cultural survival. As he explains, "I purposefully decided to treat Sioux life from the periods of approximately 1880 to 1930, a period when culture change and adaptation were drastically taking place in the areas of technology; printed media and language; fashion; social and sacred traditions; education; and for Sioux people, an entirely different world view. In collage and over-painting, I utilize old family photographs -- photographs I have personally taken; photographs from historical collections; laser copies of photographs of original paintings I have done in my past career; text and advertisements from antique magazine and books; pages from antique ledger books; and, copies of my hand-drawn copies or reproductions of original [ledger] drawings by my great-grandfather, Standing bear (1859-1933) who illustrated the well-known book, Black Elk Speaks."
 
In "Saint Agnes" Manderson, S.D. Pine Ridge Rez, Amiotte documents the Christianizing influences among his Lakota peoples in which the church and mission schools were the primary vehicles of change and conversion that altering Lakota culture. His display of multigenerational images and his narrative inscription reveal the systematic attempt of churches and government to assimilate and absorb Indian peoples into American culture. This work reveals the successes and failures of assimilation. As Amiotte explains, the church becomes the metaphor for assimilation, and in the multiple expressions of the converted-the pride, the contentment, and the bitterness- it is also a metaphor for those forced into Christianity by poverty. In the early days of life on the reservation, annuities of food and clothing, treaty payments were withheld from families and individuals who tried to prevent their children or family members from attending school or community church activities. For many, conversion became an act of survival.
 
Museum purchase
 
Steven Deo, Creek Euchee, born 1956
When We Become Our Role Models #2, 2004
Mixed Media
 
Steven Deo was born in the Indian Hospital of Claremore, Oklahoma -- the oldest of five male children. Deo's parents were full blood members of the Euchee and Creek Nations who made the deliberate choice to acculturate their sons into the public school system and mainstream American culture. As an artist who lives in both the American and Indian cultural milieu, Deo's identity is ever-evolving as he explores such concepts as Native relocation, acculturation, numbering, self-perception, dislocation, and modernity. As he notes, "Being a Native American indigenous to the southeastern United States and raised in that Native cultural tradition I've always had to rationalize my tradition with the indoctrinated identity I received in the public education process. As Native Americans we are continually traversing the boundaries of cultural tradition and the contemporary society. Identity and identifying with certain symbols and entities whether cultural or from the mainstream are the human aspects which we deal with every day. I am a Giants fan yet I am a Native American. I love baseball yet I am a Native American. I love powwows yet I am from another diverse Native tradition"
 
Incorporating historical photographs of Indian education with his own family pictures, Deo uses symbols and icons to embed subverted narratives into his work. Referring to the keys in this work, Deo explains, "the keys are a metaphor for several meanings. They could possibly mean keys to unlocking the past, keys to the future, or even keys to success, and certainly it does represent all of the above. In this [work], I use the term key in a more ambiguous sense. I like to think of the key to an exam or test and the paper that has all the answers, and in this context I think of the keys as the answer to modern Native identity."
 
Museum purchase
 
 
Steven Deo, Creek Euchee, born 1956
Indoctrination #3, 2001
Mixed Media
 
In Indoctrination #3, Deo manipulates an historic photograph of Native American children who attended the Carlyle Indian School during the late nineteenth century when forced assimilation contributed to the large-scale erasure of Native identity, culture, and tradition. In the photograph, the children are in the initial stages of de-culturalization. Like the prisoners at Fort Marion, their hair has been cut and they are dressed in the uniforms of hostage-students. Deo has covered their mouths with red strokes as a visual metaphor for the silencing of Native languages, thoughts, and words through Indian education. In this work, Deo references Captain Pratt's motto at Fort Marion and Carlyle Indian School to "kill the Indian and save the man" through education and the specific loss of the Euchee language, one of the most endangered languages in the world.
 
Superimposed over the images of the uniformed children are the words "equal, to equal, to be equal, and equally" and the corresponding terms in the Euchee language. As Deo explains, "Today, it is spoken fluently by only a handful of elders. As with most Native languages, Euchee was beaten, threatened and coerced out of the children in federal and religious 'education' and 'civilization' programs during the past two centuries....In my wake, I continually think about the people I came from. The language they spoke becomes clouded by time and daily life. The songs from the beginning of creation resonate in my daydreams, and solace is found in that sacred place called art."
 
Lent by Christel Otway
 
 
Bobby C. Martin, Creek/Muskogee, born 1957
Pursuit of Civilization #4
Digital collage on paper
 
Like ledger art that documents cultural change and assimilation, Bobby Martin combines nineteenth century photography from Indian mission schools with excerpts from Native American census reports to comment upon Native family history. Martin notes, "Old family photographs have long been a deep inspiration and nearly endless resource for my artwork. These images of close kinfolk and distant relatives are icons for me, symbols of a Native American identity that is not seen as 'traditional,' but is just as valid and vital to me-a tradition of Indian Christianity and mission schools. I base many of my works, including Pursuit of Civilization #4, on photographs that belonged to my full-blood [Creek] grandmother, my aunts, my mother -- images found in shoeboxes, forgotten in the bottoms of drawers, or found among the tattered black pages of old leather-bound photo albums. The photographs have very personal meanings for me as the artist, but I have found also that there is an almost universal recognition among viewers of a sense of history, evoking memories of their own family's past. My hope is for my art to become like an old family photograph- perhaps cherished, perhaps stuffed in a box in the attic-but always able to evoke memories every time it is viewed.
"My full-blood Muscogee grandmother, Mabel Carr Herron, attended Dwight Mission, a Presbyterian boarding school near Marble City, Oklahoma, around 1917 to 1919. Her only surviving mementos from that time are photographs of the Dwight sports teams, and a small photo of the dapper fellow that I based this work on. He's our mystery man, maybe an old flame of Granny's that she never told anyone about. The lists of names are from the Dawes Commission census rolls for the Creek tribe. Granny was an original allottee; many in our family still live on her original allotment land. These images are my lifeline to a past and a history that I didn't discover until well into adulthood, things that we rarely spoke about, but now realize are a source of inspiration and pride for our family."
 
Museum purchase
 
 
Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith, Flathead, born 1940
American Odyssey, 2002
Acrylic on canvas
 
In American Odyssey, Quick-to-See Smith reconstructs American history by reconfiguring Spanish Colonial paintings and 19th and 20th century advertising images that use women as allegories for the continents. In these works, America is usually represented by an attractive, lightly clad, dark-skinned woman wearing feathers. In this rendition however, Quick-to-See Smith depicts Europa as Snow White, proclaiming the purity of white, America as a frog, symbolizing the dehumanization of the Indian through European-American eyes. Borrowing from the metaphors of fairy tales, Quick-to-See Smith's princess kisses the frog he becomes a prince of the American Plains in ledger book style: the mounted warrior. In this painting, the mounted warrior signifies the union between Snow White/Europa and the Frog/American but also referenced in part interracial marriage. Commenting upon the need for reconciliation and healing, Quick-to-See Smith points out that despite western attempts to obliterate Indian cultures during the 19th and early 20th centuries, they have survived. Her ironic humor, however, forces the question: at what cost?
 
Referencing the mass consumption of Indian art and Indian stereotypes, Quick-to-See Smith uses the "For Sale" sign to direct the viewer toward the history of Indian art-especially ledger art-as a consumable product, much like Fritos, a mass produced transformation of corn, the staple of Indian diet into an unhealthy, commercial product. In this manner, Quick-to-See Smith expresses her own concerns about bio-engineered seeds corn seeds and the destruction of a sacred and valuable food. Continuing with the metaphor of cultural intermingling and the politics of capitalism and power, Quick-to-See Smith uses the phrase "Hecho en USA" to suggest the America's intermingling of languages, cultures and subcultures.
 
Lent by Lewellyn Gallery, Santa Fe
 
 
Jaune Quick-to-See-Smith, Flathead, born 1940
The Rancher, 2002
Acrylic on canvas
 
The Rancher conjures up a nostalgic painting by George Catlin of the Native American Ee-he-a-duck-chee-a (He Who Ties His Hair Before). While Catlin identifies this individual as Crow, Quick-to-See Smith believes it may be a portrait of a Blackfeet called Eagle Ribs, as identified by George G. Kipp. The Catlin image reminds Quick-to-See Smith of her homeland on the Flathead Reservation where many Indian people are ranchers of cattle. Quick-to-See Smith uses the logos for Purina, Krispy Kreme, coupled with the words French Fries and two hands signing the same words, to play against stereotypes, emphasizing that native people can be simultaneously traditional and contemporary. This work communicates the ever-changing processes of language and communication, all expanding over time to include new words and concepts, with communication between and among native and non-Native peoples staying in constant flux with each other.
 
Lent by Llewellen Gallery
 
 
Brad Kahlhamer, American, born 1956
East of Mesa East, A 55 Plus Community, 2002
Ink and watercolor on paper
 
Born of Native descent in Tuscon, Arizona, Brad Kahlhamer was adopted as an infant into a German-American family who moved to the Midwest and grew up without knowledge of his tribal affiliation. This experience later contributed to the development of his artistic themes and interests in Native American cultures. Kahlhamer often focuses on feelings of displacement, a search for belonging, and the renegotiation of hybrid identities that are filtered through the lens of his Christian upbringing, his love for American popular music and culture, and his imaginings of a Native American past that could have been. As Kahlhamer explains "[My work] is all about what I call a third place. . . .I'm adopted so there was another life available to me which might have been on a reservation or with my natural parents, whom I've yet to find. Then there's the life that I've lived, which is the adopted life. The third life is melding these two first lives with lots of fantasy, and that's what many of my paintings are about. It's this combination of history, fantasy, and personal revelation."
 
In his work, Kahlhamer melds popular culture with a recurring cast of characters from his personal and imagined tribal affiliations. Among these are the prairie dog, the eagle, the prickly, pig-snouted Javelina, the Native Girl with black braids, the artist's self-caricature, malleable yellow smiley faces, the upside down American flags (symbol of American Indian Movement), skulls, and iconic snapshots of the southwestern landscape. Serving as symbols of himself, people from his inner circle, as well as his real and imagined life experiences, Kahlhamer reflects upon the intercultural narrative of his own life using Plains narrative conventions akin to ledger art and its precursors-including pictographic name glyphs-to blend his own subjective experiences with broader Native American history. As in early ledger art, Kahlhamer pays little regard to scale, perspective or spatial realism. Like the warrior-artist of the nineteenth century, he floats his cast of characters within an expansive, expressionistic, and almost mystical southwestern landscape serving as arena for his fusion the world of his lost ancestors and his own urban American experience.
 
Purchased through the Stephen and Constance Spahn '63 Acquisition Fund. W.2003.40

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