Ledger Art was the topic of study for 2nd grade during our Cultural Heritage Week focus on Native American art last semester. Ledger Art is a unique genre of drawing on paper made by the Plains Indians from around 1860-1900.
This is the summary I gave the students: When higher quality and more convenient art supplies became available after the Indian Wars (1870s), American Indians on the Great Plains started using them to communicate and make records. Petroglyphs (carved into rocks) and pictographs (paintings and drawings) had previously been used. Ledger books were easier to draw on and convenient to travel with. The drawings had a simple style designed for quick understanding. Instead of drawing what they saw, the artists drew the most important parts of the story.
Warning: Many of the ledger drawings show scenes of battle. Screen them before exploring with your students. I tried to avoid showing drawings with scenes of fighting and guns because the students made a big deal about it, and because I didn't want to perpetuate stereotypes since we only had time for a small piece of the overall picture.
I was planning to just offer notebook paper to the students to draw on, thinking it was the most similar to ledgers, but during my research, I also came across an internationally known Blackfeet painter named Terrance Guardipee and got a new idea. Guardipee has revived the ledger art tradition and put his own spin on it, adding collage elements of historical documents. Inspired by Guardipee, 2nd grade students used different papers (notebook paper, old worksheets, phonebook pages, etc.) to create a collage, which became the background for a drawing of a story or event from their lives.
The students drew in pencil and traced with sharpie to help the picture show up better on top of the layered text. Tempera cakes were mostly used to add color, with some students choosing to add detail with crayons. When students finished, they were given lined paper to write out the story in the picture (2-3 sentences.)
This was a good opportunity to talk about composition. What is the most important part of your story? How can you emphasize that with the composition of your artwork?