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The Leslie Center for the Humanities
Dartmouth College
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Multiple Narratives in Plains Indian Ledger Art: The Mark Lansburgh Collection
A Leslie Humanities Institute - Fall 2010

Warrior and Horse

In 2007 Dartmouth acquired the Lansburgh collection of Plains Indian ledger art, widely considered to have been the largest and most diverse collection of nineteenth century Native American drawings in private hands. Over thirty years, Mark Lansburgh, Dartmouth class of ’49, brought together a group of drawings that embody a wealth of information and research potential about the lifestyles, events, and cultural changes among the Plains peoples in the nineteenth century. The Leslie  Center Humanities Institute will bring together Dartmouth faculty with scholars from other institutions whose expertise will shed light on the interdisciplinary merits of the collection as a unique resource and how to use the collection in developing new approaches to Native American history and cultural studies.

Many of the drawings in the Lansburgh collection depict both the struggle for cultural survival and adaptation to an imposed non-Native life style . The research potential of the collection lies not only in the importance of the drawings as an artistic genre, but as historical and sociological documents about the complex nature of Native and non-Native relationships and encounters and the re-negotiation of Native identity in the second half of the nineteenth century. By drawing on the expertise of the Hood Museum staff, the Native American Studies faculty, faculty from other departments, and Native and non-Native invited scholars, the Institute will open up discussion on the multiple narratives embedded in Plains ledger art, raising such questions as what issues of gender, social status, and tribal identity are portrayed in these drawings? How can re-examination of such issues through the Native perspective represented in these drawings be incorporated into revisions of Native American history and cultural understanding? How can the study of Plains ledger art re-inform our understanding of the relationships between traditional Plains oral narratives and text based non-Native as well as Native histories? How did these drawings create a sovereign space within contexts of cultural oppression? What are the mechanisms through which Plains ledger artists established new ways of visually negotiating identities? The different academic perspectives of the invited scholars will no doubt expand the scope of the discussions far beyond these preliminary questions.

In addition to public lectures given by visiting Institute scholars, a series of workshops and seminars will focus on the various disciplinary paradigms through which the collection can be examined and used in the revision of Native American history. These workshops and seminars will be led by the individual fellows with an invited audience but open to anyone who wishes to attend. Some of these seminars will be held in the Hood Museum of Art so as to enable working directly with the collection; others will be held at the Leslie  Center for the Humanities  and at Sherman House (NAS). Invited scholars will spend time working with the collection as well as speaking about it. The Institute will offer also student internships to work with the scholars and the collection.

Joyce M. Szabo of the University of New Mexico will direct the weekly seminar. Joseph D. Horse Capture, Associate Curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, will serve as guest curator of the exhibit of ledger art that will run concurrently with the Institute. Each invited scholar will be commissioned to write an essay exploring the ledger art from a new perspective. Since the Institute will be held in Fall 2010, it is anticipated that several of these speakers will present their work in a session of the American Society for Ethnohistory, which holds its annual meeting in mid-October. The resulting essays, together with a comprehensive introduction by the visiting senior scholar, and rich selections from the Lansburgh collections, will be assembled into a book, co-published by the Hood Museum of Art and the University of Oklahoma Press. The book will serve as a showcase for the Lansburgh collection while standing in its own right as a significant contribution to the emerging literature of Native American Studies.

 

Note: The Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University has an related exhibition - Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West, co-curated by Castle McLaughlin and Butch Thunder Hawk,  which presents a recently discovered ledger book of seventy-seven drawings by at least five Lakota warriors.

Last Updated: 4/11/14