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'Picturing Change' at the museum

Native American Ledger art on view until May

A new exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art reveals the impact of ledger drawings on transformations in Native American pictorial arts from the mid-19th century to the present.

Buffalo Dancer by Woodrow Wilson
Buffalo Dancer by Woodrow Wilson "Woody" Crumbo, an undated screenprint. The artist lived from 1912 to 1989. (Photo courtesy of the Hood Museum of Art)

Picturing Change: The Impact of Ledger Drawings on Native American Art, will be on view from Dec. 11 through May 15. The works in this exhibition illustrate how Native American artists adopted and adapted Western materials, methods and conventions to their own artistic traditions, inventing new art forms that comment upon and document cultural transitions brought on by Western education and cultural domination.

 "The art in this exhibition not only portrays the incredible perseverance of Native American arts and culture under extreme conditions of cultural suppression but also the creative force behind visual narratives as a means of renewal and healing," said Barbara Thompson, Curator of African, Oceanic and Native American Collections.

Historically, figurative arts among the Plains Indians of North America chronicled the life of warriors and chiefs and their experiences of war, hunting, religious ceremony and courtship. These abstract visual narratives were created on rock, buffalo hides, robes and tipis. Between the 1850s and the 1870s these Native American warriors experienced tremendous upheaval when increased contact and conflict with European Americans led to massive bloodshed and to the transformation of everyday life on the Plains. Through both peaceful and violent means, warrior-artists acquired ledger books, cloth, ink, pencils and colored pencils, and, later, notebooks, sketchbooks, muslin and watercolors with which they visually recorded their historical past and the tumultuous confrontations of the present.

When the Southern Plains Indian Wars ended in 1875, U.S. troops captured 72 of the most influential Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Caddo and Comanche chiefs and warriors and imprisoned them at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Fla., until 1878. Unexpectedly, their internment supported ledger drawing as a popular genre of Native arts. Prisoners were supplied with pencils, crayons, pens, watercolors, ledger books, autograph booklets and sketchbooks and encouraged to draw their memories and recent experiences. These artists increasingly moved away from their pre-reservation artistic repertoire to observations of landscapes, cityscapes, education, regimentation and their own process of assimilation.

While 19th-century warrior-artists documented the impact of conflict, captivity and cultural domination in their ledger drawings, their 20th-century descendents continued to use visual narratives on paper as a stepping stone into mainstream American fine arts practices. Today, many contemporary artists look back to the ledger drawings of their forefathers to create art that critiques America's contested histories while also reconciling themselves to the cultural genocide of the past.

Picturing Change: The Impact of Ledger Drawings on Native American Art was organized by the Hood Museum of Art and funded by the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Hall Fund.

There will be an opening lecture and reception for Picturing Change on Wednesday, Jan. 12, at 5:30 p.m. in the Arthur M. Loew Auditorium. Candace Greene, Curator at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, will present a talk entitled "Road Trip: To and From Fort Marion." A reception will follow in Kim Gallery. The event is free and open to the public.

The Hood Museum of Art hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday, 10-5, with evening hours on Wednesday until 9; Sunday, 12-5. Admission is free. The museum galleries and the Arthur M. Loew Auditorium are wheelchair accessible.

For more information, directions, or to search the collections, please visit the museum's website or call 646-2808.

By SHARON REED

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Last Updated: 12/17/08