Canku Ota Logo
Canku Ota
Canku Ota Logo
(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
pictograph divider
CACHE: Ledger Art From Pine Ridge Indian Reservation
by May Marquebreuck - Medford Wicked Local
Song of the Elk Nation
Inspired by the Standing Rock Dakota Access pipeline protest, this bold work speaks to Pulliam's participation in the protest. The beautifully portrayed elk stands near the water in its place in the circle of life. Patrick Joel Pulliam

This summer in early July, when the Medford volunteers returned from their community service week at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, they brought with them a sample of artwork known as ledger art done by an Oglala Lakota artist, Patrick Pulliam, at the reservation.

This is a unique art form that began in the 1860s and was traditionally painted by the American Plain's tribes until the 1920s. The name comes from the accounting ledger books on which narrative drawings or paintings were made. Originally, artwork was painted on animal hides but when the buffalo became scarce, artists began using paper especially ledger books that were readily available from traders, government agents, missionaries and military officers.

Winyan with Parfleche Bag and Child in Cradle Board with One Butterfly. Patrick Joel Pulliam

The resurgence of ledger art began in the 1970s with renewed interest and demand for Indian art. Today, this form of artwork is of great interest in this country and one of the artists carrying on this tradition is the nationally known, award winning artist Patrick Pulliam. He has been a graphic artist and painter for 25 years and is one of 16 Native American artists whose artwork is on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian-New York and was also featured in a 2016 ledger art exhibit at that museum Pulliam began his career as a graphic designer but was drawn to ledger art.

"About nine years ago I was introduced to Daniel Long Soldier," says Pulliam. "I was really blown away by his use of imagery to preserve history. So I researched other early ledger artists. One is Amos Bad Heart. What he did, he preserved so much tribal knowledge on warrior society and Lakota heritage."

One of Pulliam's recent ledger artworks is entitled "Song of the Elk Nation." This painting was inspired by the Standing Rock Dakota Access pipeline protest. In the drawing, the elk stands near the water in its place in the circle of life.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the majority of drawings were done by men that focused on warrior deeds – attacking, killing, and on warrior's victories and death during battle. The images also included the men's lives as horsemen and hunters.

Horses appear in almost every picture, illustrating their importance in the lives of American Indians. Also, quite often the drawings were of cultural life such as the Sun Dance and other ceremonial evets. Meanwhile, the women and children were carrying on a less visually documented daily life. Exception to this was the work of Sheridan MacKnight who focused on graceful imagery of mothers and babies, women in love, and painted umbrellas that speak of sacred rain.

The most celebrated ledger artists were prisoners of war at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Fla. In 1874, in what became known as the Red River War, a group of Southern Plains Indian tribes fought the US Army in South Texas to protect the last free herd of buffalo and to assert their autonomy. In this conflict during a harsh winter, the leaders of the tribal camps were rounded up by the Army and sent to Fort Marion.

The commander of the Fort, Richard Henry Pratt, decided to give the Indian prisoners a Western education so among other activities, he provided them with art supplies, such as pencils, ink, crayons, watercolor paint and paper. From this group of prisoners, twenty-six engaged in drawing and these ledger paintings are the earliest known to be created by commission rather than for tribal record keeping, as was the original purpose of ledger drawing.

38 + 2 Kangi Cikada
Collage on print of antique map and mat board. Signed and dated 2017. Merle Locke

Today, numerous modern Plains artists create ledger paintings, including many woman artists despite its history as a male domain. Many of these artists seek out 19th century documents on which to paint, creating ironic juxtapositions between the printed test and the paintings. Patrick Pulliam's art depicts traditional Lakota figures – pencil drawn then filled in with watercolor on ledger paper. He rummages around the region looking for authentic 19th century ledger books and recently bought one dated 1886 from an antique store.

He said, "If I find something interesting on the paper, I try to paint something relevant."

Visit for samples of ledger art by Patrick Joel Pulliam and Merle Locke. Like most forms of Native art, ledger art reflects the traditions of the past and preserves the realities of life.

Sources for this article include: art; www/;

pictograph divider
Home PageFront PageArchivesOur AwardsAbout Us
Kid's PageColoring BookCool LinksGuest BookEmail Us
pictograph divider
  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  
Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000 - 2017 of Vicki Williams Barry and Paul Barry.
Canku Ota Logo   Canku Ota Logo
The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the
Copyright © 1999 - 2017 of Paul C. Barry.
All Rights Reserved.

Site Meter
Thank You

Valid HTML 4.01!