Native American Ledger Art

Interested in Native American ledger art? Want to know about Native American ledger art forms? Read on to get a comprehensive overview…

Ledger Art is a term derived from the accounting ledgers which were used as a source of paper during the late 19th Century by the Plains Indians. Ledger Art refers to the narrative paintings and drawings of the Plains Indians on this parchment.

Historical Precedents

Historically the women in the Plains community would paint abstract and men would paint representational designs. The men painted on shields, tipis, shirts and robes. Their art depicted achievements in battle and hunting. This genre depicts narrative action in print without background and fillers.

These images were initially printed on buffalo hides but once the hides became scarce, the Plains Artists shifted to Ledger paper to keep the tradition of this artwork alive.

New Materials

With travelers and businessmen, government officials and military teams passing through the Plains Area, the Plains Indians were exposed to new materials. The Artists started to experiment with the bone, wood or pencil, pen and various mineral pigments to color the art work. The compact and portable ledger books allowed the artist to journey through the Plains and capture art in a convenient form.

Prisoner Artists budding from Fort Marion

Renowned Ledger Artists hail from the prisoners of the 1874 Buffalo War. In this war a band of Cheyenne, Caddo, Arapaho, Kiowa and Comanche Warriors fought against the USA Army to save the last free herd of buffalos from captivity. However it was a bitter war that ended up in many of the Plains Indians being imprisoned at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida from 1875 to 1878. The prison under the command of Richard Henry Pratt had 71 male and female inmates. He used this term as an occasion to expose these tribal folk to art and education by providing supplies and tools for artwork. 21 of these inmates were heavily inclined towards drawing and of these tribal Indians Tichtematse, Howling Wolf, White Bear, and Koba all became master artists and were prolific in their depiction of the art of this era.

Canvas Subject

Since Ledger Art took its roots in prison, the main theme depicted in most artists’ renditions was the Battle. Other than that, subjects dear to individual artists made their way onto the paper and included religion, love, hunting and courtship. They also depicted the changing times with artwork of the advances made by US and European settlers including the trains and cameras. Since nature and spirituality are close to Native Indians, the dreams and scenic beauty and glory of nature also made their way into the pictures.

Welcome to The Fine Art World

Ledger Art was collected by tourists, anthropologists and missionaries who inspired others and promulgated this into a native art form with international appeal and recognition. The big five or the Kiowa Six inspired many a budding Ledger Artist when they forayed into the creation of sophisticated artwork from the Plains Indians. History in the art world was created when back in 1928 their artwork was showcased at the International Art Congress in Prague, Czechoslovakia and brought international recognition to this art form.

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