Blending History and Art: Ledger Art

Donald Montileaux, Lakota

Donald Montileaux, Lakota

I fell in love with it the first time I saw it: ledger art. Amazing, detailed, brilliant colors, in a modern yet historical perspective. It serves as both a reminder of the past that connects us all and of the present, where the art of ledger painting is once again alive and full of stories.

The following is a portion of an article* from Native Peoples magazine (to which I regularly subscribe) by Gussie Fauntleroy. It’s a wonderful summary of some modern Native artists who have revived ledger art and elevated it, in my opinion, to a level beyond historical value:

“Plains ledger art was a continuation, in a new form, of the age old practice of using imagery to record and announce important knowledge and events, including successes in hunting and war. This imagery–pictographs on rock walls and mineral-pigment painting on buffalo hides–also served as a memory aid in oral storytelling. Symbolic narratives painted on tipis, buffalo robes, shields, and other clothing and objects were easily understood by friend and foe alike.

Intact books of early ledger drawings have been compared with modern-day blogs; one artist may have created the first drawings, but the books were often passed around and others added their own depictions of the same event.

Artists today draw and paint not only on antique ledger pages, but also old maps, sheet music, railroad tickets, bank notes and other documents, creating thought-provoking juxtapositions between the content of the original documents and the art on top–layered stories and histories of very different cultures.”

My personal favorite is Donald “Yellowbird” Montileaux (Oglala Lakota), who learned his art from a tribal elder who’d kept the art of ledger painting alive. His paintings are reminiscent of R.C. Gorman and Van Gogh in his use of bright colors that pop from the pages and draw you in to the pieces.

Donald Montileaux

Donald Montileaux

Donald Montileaux

Donald Montileaux


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