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March 03 2016

Ledger Art is an Eloquent Elegy to America’s Past


An article in Crave reviews Donald Ellis Gallery’s presentation of Plains Ledger Art at The Armory Show 2016. Ledger Drawings are an ‘elegant, eloquent elegy to America's tragic past as told by the people who lived through it’ and remind us ‘that the truth will always emerge,’ the author writes.

The drawings on view at the gallery’s booth were created by mostly anonymous Cheyenne, Lakota, and Arapaho warrior artists in the mid to late nineteenth century. With the systematic extinction of the great buffalo herds, Native American artists began using accounting ledgers, muslin and canvas acquired from Euro-Americans to record their oral histories in pictorial form.

‘I consider this one of the most important aspects of American art history,’ Donald Ellis explains. Dating between 1865 and 1900, many of the drawings depict combat scenes between various Native nations as well as with the U.S. military. They offer first-person narratives of a foundational moment in the history of the United States. 

‘Each drawing is a story told in a single image, spellbinding in its ability to distill the essence of the moment in line, color, and shape,’ the author marvels. ‘Individually they are icons; taken together, the booth becomes a shrine, poignantly standing independently of everything else at the show.’

This is the first year that the gallery is exhibiting at The Armory Show, indicative of the growing interest in historical Ledger Art. ‘When gazing upon the drawings there is something instantly recognizable, almost uncanny. There’s a sense that these images have been waiting to make their appearance on the world stage,’ the author closes.

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Ledger Art is an Eloquent Elegy to America’s Past