Fairfield University Art Museum Presents Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians

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Fairfield University Art Museum Presents Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (August 28, 2017)—The Fairfield University Art Museum presents a new exhibition, Picturing History: Ledger Drawings of the Plains Indians on view from Wednesday, September 27, 2017, through Wednesday, December 20, 2017, in the museum’s Bellarmine Hall Galleries on the campus of Fairfield University.

An opening reception, free and open to the public, will take place on Tuesday, September 26, 2017, from 6-7:30 p.m. in the Fairfield University Art Museum’s Bellarmine Hall Galleries and the Great Hall.

The exhibition features over 50 drawings by artists from the Plains Indian peoples (Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho and others dwelling in the Western United States and Canada), who produced an extraordinarily rich and distinctive body of drawings chronicling battles, rituals, and winsome if sometimes jarring events of everyday life. In their later phase, the subject matter shifts to focus on the forced captivity of Native Americans and the suppression of indigenous traditions and practices. Known as Ledger Drawings because they were done on the pages of commercially produced account books, these striking images, many bearing pictographic signatures, are executed in ink, graphite, and colored pencil and watercolor. Some favor flat, stylized forms and a stark economy of means, while others show a lyrical predilection for rhythmic movement, minute descriptive and narrative detail, and dense, mosaic-like surface patterns. What each share is their makers’ acute powers of observation and ambition to record and describe recognizable people, places, things and events—to eloquently picture and record history as it transpired.

At the time they were made Ledger Drawings were appreciated by (and in many cases produced for) non-Native audiences. Today, however, they are virtually unknown other than to a small group of specialists and cognoscenti, and with rare exceptions they have been studied foremost as anthropological and ethnographic documents rather than as artistic creations. Yet the graphic media and materials, as well as the function and absorbing subject matter align these works with the centuries-long European tradition of drawing “stories” taken from the Bible, history, mythology, political and military deeds, or the simple routines of domestic life. Following European models, the depiction of these kinds of subjects became part of artistic practice on the other side of the Atlantic, the American continent, providing a more immediate context for the evocative and descriptive images produced by Plains Indians artists, which merge indigenous and non-native pictorial traditions and techniques. Featuring some fifty Ledger Drawings, Picturing History presents these works as graphic masterpieces warranting a place in the long and rich history of drawing.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the museum is offering a series of lectures and events which are all free and open to the public but pre-registration is requested. Prior to the opening reception, Dr. Ross Frank, director of the Plains Indian Ledger Art Digital Publishing Project and associate professor, Department of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego, will present a lecture entitled, “Picturing History: Plains Indian Ledger Drawings as World View,” on Tuesday, September 26, 2017, at 5:00 p.m. in the Diffley Board Room, Bellarmine Hall. A gallery talk by Dr. Peter L. Bayers, Professor of English, Fairfield University, on “Ledger Drawings and the Evolution of Plains Indians Masculinity,” will take place Tuesday, November 7, at 5:00 p.m. in the Bellarmine Hall Galleries. Lakota Music and Storytelling with Tiokasin Ghosthorse (2016 Nobel Peace Prize nominee) will be offered on October 11 at 5:00 p.m. in the Diffley Board Room, Bellarmine Hall. Family Day will be held at the museum and will feature two sessions of drop-in craft activities and child-friendly tours of the exhibition. Children are invited to explore the theme of The Art of the Plains Indians in the Bellarmine Hall Galleries and SmART classroom, at the Fairfield University Art Museum on Saturday, October 14, 2017, from 12 noon – 4:00 p.m.

This exhibition and related programs are made possible by generous support from Donald Ellis Gallery. TownVibe is the media sponsor for the exhibition.

The Fairfield University Art Museum’s Bellarmine Hall Galleries are located in Bellarmine Hall on the campus of Fairfield University, 200 Barlow Road, Fairfield, Conn. They are open to the public Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on select Saturdays, when classes are in session. Please consult the museum website for details (https://www.fairfield.edu/museum/). Admission is free.

Image Credit:Attributed to Howling Wolf (Southern Cheyenne, Central Plains), Cheyenne Attacking a Pawnee Camp (Ledger Drawing), ca. 1875-78. Watercolor, graphite and colored pencil on paper. Private collection, courtesy of Donald Ellis Galley, New York.


Vol. #50, No. 27

Fairfield University is a modern, Jesuit Catholic university rooted in one of the world’s oldest intellectual and spiritual traditions. More than 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students from the U.S. and across the globe are pursuing degrees in the University’s five schools. Fairfield embraces a liberal humanistic approach to education, encouraging critical thinking, cultivating free and open inquiry, and fostering ethical and religious values. The University is located on a stunning 200- acre campus on the scenic Connecticut coast just an hour from New York City.


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