A Calgary art gallery is hosting an exhibit of ledger drawings, highlighting a difficult time in native history.
The artwork, created by native artists between 1865 and 1900, was created on ledger books – lined paper used for accounting. It was the first paper the artists would have used.
“They are done with extraordinary skill, care and intimacy,” said Yves Trépanier, who co-owns the gallery.
“They are made at a time of extreme stress on First Nations people in North America. The American and Canadian governments were literally trying to exterminate these people. We’re moving into the reservation era, people are being displaced and put on reserves.”
The pictographic tradition comes out of painting on hides, but after contact with Europeans, ledger books became available from traders and missionaries, said Trépanier.
“Everybody who was moving across the area usually had stuff with them and they kept ledger books of an accounting of what that stuff was. These books were sources of paper and they were often given to Indian scouts, for example, Native people who worked for the American army,” he said.
The exhibit includes 50 drawings from Cheyenne, Arapaho, Hidatsa, and Sioux artists, ranging in price from $9,500 to $95,000.
“The show has prompted a lot of conversation around the history and the culture of Plains people, which is frankly, not well known,” he said.
The exhibit, called Keeping Time: Ledger Drawings and the Pictographic Traditions of Native North Americans, runs at the TrépanierBaer Gallery until Aug. 23.