Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ledger Art Memorializes Life

original art and poetry
by Catherine Castle
I recently discovered a new art form which I have claimed for my own artistic purposes—Ledger Art.

 Ledger Art is an adaptation of Plains Indian hide painting that developed as buffalo hides became sparse.

Before the Plains tribes were forced onto reservations they had a tradition of painting their personal stories on buffalo hides, shields, tipis, and clothing. The men usually painted representational pictures of life happenings. The women painted abstract, geometrical designs. After the Indians were forced onto reservations and buffalo hides became scarce Plains artists began painting and drawing on paper, canvas, and muslin.  The art is drawn in one-dimensional outlines and filled in with bright colors. As used ledger pages and other written-upon materials were passed to the Indian artists, they began to draw over the written words, not wasting any materials they could use as canvases.

In recent years Ledger Art has had a resurgence. Contemporary ledger artists still draw and paint on antique ledger paper when they can find it, but they have added other sources of paper, including old maps, sheet music, railroad tickets, and other documents as their canvases. Often artists create juxtapositions between the paper’s content and what they have drawn. Many contemporary artists still use the flat, one-dimensional style of drawing. Others have begun to create more three-dimensional art on ledger canvases.

After reading about Ledger Art in one of my native American magazines, I was captivated by the art samples I saw. I went on an internet  search and found more examples. I’ve included a couple of links so you can see this fantastic work. I especially love Dolores Purdy Corcoran’s ledger art.

Although contemporary ledger artists often use ledger art to honor pre-reservation culture or comment on, or poke fun at, the world around them, I found a new use for ledger art. Using my poetry, I have begun to create my own form of ledger art, placing hand-drawn images, or computer images of pictures I’ve taken, on top of the poems, which I place on blue-lined notebook paper.

At first I struggled with using a form of art that claims to be an exclusively American Indian art form. Then it occurred to me I have Choctaw blood in my ancestry. I’m a little bit Indian. I can also draw those one-dimensional figures, and using my poems I can create my own ledger paper. Once I got that notion in my head there was no stopping the creative juices. I stayed up late several nights as the ideas for poem-related ledger art, and ledger art written on my own music compositions flowed from my brain. Granted, I might not have the artistic skills of some of the contemporary ledger artists today, and most of what I create will never see the inside of an art gallery, but what I’m creating is in the spirit of the art form, since many of the poems I’m planning on using have a relationship to things that have happened in my life and my family’s life. I think it will make a nice legacy for my daughter to have one day.

The only thing I need now is a few more hundred hours a week to create everything I want to write, draw, and compose. Ah, being an artist is such a problem. J



  1. In the past year I have seen more and more of these in home decorating magazines. Interesting post!

  2. Thanks, Connie. I'm glad you found it interesting.