Opening Reception—Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians
Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians will be on view at the Fairfield University Art Museum from September 27 - December 20, 2017; an Opening Reception will take place on Tuesday, September 26, from 6-7:30 pm in the Fairfield University Art Museum, Bellarmine Hall. The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public. 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. Generous support for the exhibition is provided by Donald Ellis Gallery and by the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation. Photo credit: Detail from 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.