The Mark Lansburgh Collection

Hood Quarterly, winter 2008
Barbara Thompson, Curator of African, Oceanic, and Native American Collections

The Hood Museum of Art, the Office of the President, and the Office of the Provost take great joy in the success of their collaborative efforts to acquire the Mark Lansburgh '49 Collection of Native American ledger drawings, considered to have been the largest and most diverse collection of historic Native American drawings in private hands. Historically, figurative arts among the Plains Indians of North America chronicled the heroic life of great warriors and chiefs. Predominantly a male pursuit, these visual narratives of heraldic images of war, hunting, religious ceremony, and courtship were painted onto rock, buffalo hides, robes, and tipis to publicly commemorate the great accomplishments of the warrior-artists and their cohorts. From the 1850s through the 1870s, however, more contact led to more conflicts between Natives and non-Natives, ultimately transforming life on the Great Plains and decimating the Native populations.

Through their greater exposure to American settlers and soldiers, Plains warrior-artists appropriated new perspectives, themes, materials, and artistic styles, developing a unique genre of figurative art using bound ledger books and paper to depict life on the Plains. These autobiographical and narrative ledger drawings became an important form of communication about and between Native and non-Native cultures. They chronicled both past and contemporary experiences but especially addressed the transitions brought on by forced abandonment of traditional Native lifestyles through captivity, life on the reservation, and the effects of cultural suppression in the later nineteenth century.

With their focus on Native responses and perspectives, ledger drawings provide a vital counterpoint to the representations of Plains cultures in the works of well-known Western artists such as Karl Bodmer and George Catlin. As historical documents, ledger drawings also provide an alternative interpretation of Native and non-Native interaction, as seen through the eyes of Plains warriors and leaders. The 101 ledger drawings in the Mark Lansburgh Collection therefore provide a vital new resource for scholars retracing Native experiences and perspectives in the Plains during this tumultuous period. The collection further reveals the great depth, complexity, and diversity of nineteenth-century Plains ledger art through drawings by celebrated warriors and chiefs including Howling Wolf (Ho-na-nist-to), Chief Killer (Nohhu-nah-wih), Ohetoint, Arrow, Frank Henderson, Wooden Leg (Kum-mok-quivvi-ok-ta), Short Bull, Old White Woman, Dull Knife, and White Swan, among others. It also includes as yet unnamed artists from the Douglas Ledger, Edwards Ledger, Dentzel Ledger, and Vincent Price Ledger. Dating from the mid-1860s to the end of the 1890s, these extremely rare drawings reflect the distinctive artistic sensibilities of a variety of Plains cultures, including the Southern and Northern Tsitsistas (Cheyenne), Arapaho (Inuna-Ina or Hinonoeino), Kiowa, Mexican-Kiowa, Brulé-Lakota, and Apsaaloke (Crow) peoples.

In just twenty years Mark Lansburgh has brought together groups of drawings that embody a wealth of information about traditional lifestyles, clothing, and practices from the pre- and post-contact eras. Filled with detailed and dramatic scenes of milestone moments in the lives of these Plains artists, the drawings illustrate some of the most important figures and events in the Native struggle to retain land, resources, and cultural freedom. Among the highlights of the collection are a depiction of Chief Crazy Horse (possibly the only extant depiction by a contemporary), Chief Santanta, General Custer, and Captain Richard Pratt; Lance Glyphs's representation of the Battle of Summit Springs (1868–69), White Swan's participation as one of Custer's scouts in the Battle of Little Big Horn (1876), and the capture of Dull Knife in his village in 1876, together representing the last three battles of the Cheyenne; and Howling Wolf's, Chief Killer's, and Ohettoint's daily observations of life as captives at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, from 1875 to 1878.

The acquisition of the Mark Lansburgh ledger drawing collection celebrates Dartmouth's continuing commitment to the teaching of Native American art, culture, and history while offering a unique research opportunity to faculty and students in anthropology, art history, studio arts, history, government, law, economics, and environmental studies.

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Written January 01, 2008