WHAT IS LEDGER ART?
Ledger art, which has roots back to paintings on the sides of teepees and Winter Counts, had its jumpstart in the 1860s when “Indian agents hoarded the fine paper and substituted it with used ledgers,” says Stephen Fox, owner of New Millennium Fine Art, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. About 10 years later, the largest impetus for modern ledger art happened “from the Fort Marion ledger artists, after Oklahoma and Texas tribal leaders were locked up in a prison in St. Augustine, Florida.” To pass the time and remember their villages they would create artwork.
According to Fox, ledger art nearly died out from 1900 to 1975, but it was almost singlehandedly revived by Spokane artist George Flett. Today, ledger art is varied with some artists focusing on the historical themes and others creating contemporary narratives.
Fox adds that when collecting ledger art to look for pieces that reflect Native history and have a strong cultural statement as well as works that aren’t just on ledgers but on non-native stock certificates, Civil War documents, old maps, sheet music, old checks and receipts. He says also to seek out work that tells a story and to ask the artists about their connection to the Fort Marion artists as some are direct descendants.