MARTINSDALE — This summer, the Charles M. Bair Family Museum will host an exhibition of selected work from the Charles H. Barstow Collection of Crow and Gros Ventre Indian Ledger Art from Montana State University Billings Library of works on paper.
The 20 drawings from this collection examine the tribal history and traditions of the last decade of the nineteenth century. The exhibition will be on display weekends in May and from June 1 to Aug. 11, daily.
The American Indian tribes of the Northern Plains were confined to reservations in the last part of the nineteenth century. Many turned to creating pictorial art as a means to preserve and pass on their history and heritage. They used manufactured materials on hand, including pencils and ink, and paper torn from ledger books, school notebooks and office forms.
Major Charles Barstow was chief clerk for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at Crow Agency from 1879 to 1897. Barstow provided Indian warriors materials and encouraged them paint and draw. The ledger drawings mimic the function of traditional buffalo hide painting — narrative of social status, youthful adventure from capturing horses and “counting coups” to dancing and courtship.
Barstow’s collection of ledger drawings was rediscovered in 1930 in Roundup, and came to MSU Billings through the efforts of Ruthann Wilbur Hines.