Gilcrease Museum, 1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road, recently opened an exhibition of Cheyenne and Arapaho ledger drawings from its permanent collection that has never before been on display.
"Between the Lines: Cheyenne and Arapaho Ledger Art from Fort Reno" is a collection of 45 drawings taken from two ledger books, one circa 1879 and the other 1887. The drawings were made by Cheyenne and Arapaho scouts serving at Fort Reno, Indian Territory, near present day El Reno. The drawings were made with colored pencils and crayons, and there are six known ledgers in existence in the U.S. today. Two of them belong to Gilcrease. All together, there are at least 150 drawings in the two books Gilcrease owns.
The art in the ledgers depicts mostly battle and courting scenes. The drawings served as a record of history, allowing others in their tribes to know who fought whom, where and who won.
On display are facsimiles of the actual pages in the ledger books, scaled as close to the original size as possible. They are on display in the museum's smallest gallery, which provides an intimate setting for these small works.
Situated next to some of the drawings are photos of Cheyenne and Arapaho people of the time, in order to give the exhibit some context. Along with each drawing is a short description of the depicted image.
"It was important for us to create as much context as possible," explained associate curator Kimberly Roblin. "We want to push the idea that these are not just drawings; they're actual events that people witnessed. If you see two men fighting, they were really fighting."
The curatorial staff at Gilcrease is not sure how many artists participated in the drawings in the ledger book. There are 24 names listed in the 1887 ledger, Roblin said, but some of those names are artists and some are the drawings' subjects. There are no names in the 1879 ledger.
An artist named Red Eagle is the most prominent in the 1887 book, drawing all of the battle scenes and many of the courting scenes.
The books were a communal project, Roblin said, so many artists participated in the drawings within them. In some cases, she said, it's quite possible that one artist began a drawing and another finished it.
"They'd been doing this for centuries on teepee lining and animal hides," said Roblin. "In the 19th century, trade became more frequent, and they had new materials to work with. They took something they had been doing for centuries and just transferred it to a different medium."
The general style of the drawings is similar, but, when you look closely, you can see the differences in one artist's style from another's.
In all of the drawings, though, the colors are very vibrant, and the subjects are identified by the detail in their garb, headdresses and war bonnets. The colors and prints chosen to accent their clothes were not chosen at random. A member of the tribe, when looking at the photo, would know exactly who was being depicted by what he was wearing.
The images are meant to be read from right to left, and when one does look at them that way, it's plain to see the action being depicted. You can see how one man would approach another on his horse, dismount and attack, with a sword, an arrow, or a gun. The images are not static; there is movement and life in them. There is action.
The images will be on display through March 22, 2009.
In the gallery are blank ledger books in which Gilcrease encourages children to leave their own drawings, creating a community of work by children in the Tulsa area. On Fri., Dec. 5, director of the University of Oklahoma's School of Art Mary Jo Watson gives a lecture on the images and their history at noon.
Also at Gilcrease is a holiday event called "12 Days of Gilcrease." For 12 days, beginning November 21, Gilcrease hosts different activities for families and children in an effort to encourage folks to go to the museum. For more information on these events, as well as other exhibits currently on display, visit gilcrease.org.
Oh, Christmas Tree
Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 S. Rockford Road, opened its annual Festival of Trees on Sat., Nov. 23. The theme this year is "A Southwest Holiday," inspired by Philbrook's recently acquired Eugene B. Adkins Collection.
Local artists, designers and school children participated in designing, decorating and/or making trees to fit the theme as they interpreted it. Also on display are works of art by 150 Tulsa-area artists and gingerbread houses made by area school children and Boy and Girl Scout troupes. All of the works are for sale, and the artwork, for the first time, was juried and the winning artists awarded cash prizes.
My favorite trees included a paper mache cactus in a planter, decorated with wire, beads and paper mache bulbs, by a third grade class at Metro Christian Academy. Also, Darcy Marlow's "Waste Not, My Friends" is a wood, steel, copper and brass structure. Marlow, who is on staff at Philbrook, made ornaments by fusing together found objects, many of which are well-rusted, and hanging them from steel poles, which jut out from a wooden beam wrapped in white Christmas lights. With her project, most likely intended for the outdoors, she's taken many unbeautiful things and made a quite exquisite tree.
Toni's Flowers submitted "Oops!," a 3-D project consisting of a canvas with a Christmas tree shape cut from it and filled with overlapping glass ornaments.
The artwork included in the display runs the gamut from oil paint to ceramics to jewelry and more, and much of it is very reasonably priced.
"Festival of Trees" will be up through December 7. On Sat., Nov. 29, Philbrook hosts "Garden Glow," a free event from 3-7pm, where families may peruse the exhibit, make snow globes and ornaments, decorate holiday cookies and sip on hot chocolate. At 6pm, Philbrook staff light the gardens with more than 27,000 holiday lights.
For more on the festival and other special events, visit philbrook.org.
Next week, we delve into all the holiday fun that is expected to begin. No sleep 'til Christmas!
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