Native American Drawings

Background information on the history of Native American Drawings.

Art has been in existence for thousands, perhaps even millions of years. Art serves as a form of expression for our emotions, observations, and communications with others. The Native American people have been partaking in artistic endeavors for many years. Whether the Native American people were actually creating the drawings, or whether it was early American settlers who chose to sketch the people themselves, this art form is a valuable insight into our country's early history. Much of the early Native American drawings served as narratives, giving us a wonderful insight into their daily lives, and insight into some extraordinary events that took place.

Much of these drawings were done on animal skin, and still others on parchment paper that was usually received in trading with the European settlers.  Colors were used in many instances, and the inks were derived from things like animal blood, plant extracts, and minerals.  Many different aspects of life were shown in these Native American drawings.  Everything from great battles, to traditional ceremonies, to “snapshots” of every day life was shown.  As time progressed, many Native Americans actually began creating books of drawings and art.  These were known as ledgers.  These collections of Native American drawings are considered so historically important, that many professors and historians have written books about their significance.  In fact, if it weren’t for these drawings, there would be a lot more missing pieces in the complex puzzle that makes up Native American life.

While many of the Native American drawings found were discovered inside caves, on animal bones, or even on mountainsides, cliffs, and on the ground, the ledger art discovered has been the most valuable in regards to giving us a clear picture of their history.  What may surprise many people is that the Native American drawings were sometimes sold to tourists for a few dollars per volume, in order for the tribes to make money.  Many of the artists were actually Indian prisoners who were held captive by the United States Army, who in turn forced them to create these ledgers for profit.  Still others simply enjoyed chronicling their lives through this new artistic medium.

The concept of Native American ledger art really began to surface in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Before that time, most drawings were conducted in localized areas within the reservation or tribe.  Once the inception of bound paper books came along, many Native American people decided to fill them with detailed color sketches.  These sketches offer up an amazing insight into their lives.  Some of these ledges are now on display at museums across the nation, while still others remain out there, somewhere, unclaimed or undiscovered.  Native American drawings can give people a clearer picture of what life might have been like in the days past, and can also offer us insight into the customs and traditions of the Native American people and their significance. These drawings are also wonderful educational tools to help show new generations what the Native American culture is about, and why it is such an important part of the American landscape, both then and now.

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