With my arrival to New Mexico came my awareness of Native American ledger art. I have to admit that as a fan of jewelry and pottery, my eyes had not quite been opened to really "seeing" ledger art. To me, it seemed nothing more than color pencil drawings on lined paper--the kind I remembered from my time working as an office temp in "the old days."
A trip to Santa Fe last November changed all that. The same day I covered the opening of Zuni visual artist Silvester Hustito's new gallery Fire God on Santa Fe's historic plaza, was the same day that I visited a well known gallery on Canyon Road that was home to a variety of ledger art pieces. As a newbie to Native American art collecting, that trip made all the difference in the world in terms of educating my art palette and helping me to appreciate ledger art in a new way. Lucky for me the gallery director was kind enough to explain to me that ledger art, in spite of its contemporary look, actually goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century. To be honest, I couldn't tell the difference between the early pieces and the newer ones.
The director and I also talked about the fact that she prefers when today's ledger artists depict modern themes--the ones who opt to portray Indians on bicycles and cars instead of chiefs hunting buffalo and more traditional images. One of her favorite things to do, she said, is to tease artists by asking them "When did you last hunt a buffalo?" Pretty hilarious!
That said, there are many traditionalists out there and they stand firm to keeping history alive. I like both the traditional and the contemporary. They both provide glimpses into the Native American experience--the emotions, and that sharp, dry Native American wit--and they honor their people as they were and how they have become.
The Fire God opening was the first time I had seen contemporary ledger art by Chicago-resident Chris Pappan. I was absolutely blown away by his talent and perspective. Pappan takes the stance that he is ushering ledger art into a new era. What is fascinating is that Pappan stumbled upon the idea of creating ledger art because he found ledger pads in an office supply closet.
Darryl Growing Thunder, who hails from the Fort Peck Assiniboine/Sioux reservation in Montana, has a different perspective on Native American ledger art. The son of bead artist Joyce Growing Thunder and Jim Fogarty, a painter known for his Western and American Indian-themed works, Darryl developed more of an appreciation for traditional images. You can see this in his pieces, and Growing Thunder makes no apologies for it. While he appreciates all styles of ledger art, his work is very "old school", and he stands firm in his commitment to keep people aware of the legacy of ledger art. I first experienced his work on a visit to one of my favorite galleries in Albuquerque, Wright's Indian Art. He has a wonderful eye for color, and his impeccable attention to detail shows his loyalty to traditional style.
So what was Uncle Paulie supposed to do when both artists were in attendance at the 2010 Heard Museum Guild's Indian Fair and Market? Interview them, of course! They both contributed vital and distinct information on the history of ledger art in their interviews. As I was talking to both of them, I realized how marvelous it would be to "pit them" against each other, so to speak, to create one comprehensive video testament to how varied ledger art can be. I hope you find THIS VIDEO as informative as I did.