Ledger drawings by American Indian artists in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries provide an excellent source of visual history for the way of life of Native Americans on the Great Plains. Known as ledger drawings primarily because the artists used the blank pages of ledger books obtained from U.S. soldiers, traders, missionaries, and reservation employees, this form of art represents a transition from drawing on buffalo hide to a paper medium.
When ledger pages were not available, artists often used other types of paper such as single sheets of stationery, cardboard, drawing paper, and, in the case of a Sioux artist's winter count, a composition book from the University of Oklahoma bookstore. Several artists also used muslin to render their scenes of plains life.
In addition to paper and cloth, European culture gave American Indian artists a variety of pens, inks, pencils, colored pencils, watercolors, and even crayons to compose their works. These drawing materials offered the artists more latitude in depicting their images than the paints used previously to draw on buffalo hide.
The artists' style, content, and quality ranged from very primitive and poor, from an artistic point of view, to bold, sharp drawings with lavish use of color and multiple figures. A majority of ledger drawings share common characteristics, such as a lack of perspective, and action scenes that usually move from right to left. Ledger drawings are also egocentric in that the warrior-artist is nearly always the focus of the drawing's action. The artist's motive for doing the ledger drawing was to clarify an oral interpretation of an event.
As the artists provided this visual history, the subjects of individual ledger drawings included village and social life, ceremonies, hunting, horse capture, and, of major importance to the warrior-artist, their individual battle records against