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.
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
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.
+ 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
He said, "If I find something interesting on the paper, I try
to paint something relevant."
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: Wikipedia.org/wiki/ledger
art; www/nativepeoples.com; www.sdph.org/blogs/arts-and-culture.