Ledger Art

Award-winning New Mexico artist Oreland Joe, long known for his works in stone, is turning to oil paint as he re-interprets and re-examines ledger art in a contemporary, but also historic, context. The Southern Ute and Navajo artist, the first and only Native American in the Cowboy Artists of America, debuted his oil-on-canvas works in 2016 to considerable praise and has plans to take the series even further in 2018.

The origin and catalyst of this new series is rooted in the history of Cheyenne warrior Yellow Nose, whose late-1800s ledger book with his brother-in-law Spotted Wolf inspired the New Mexico painter. Yellow Nose’s trajectory through the West inspired some of the most treasured ledger images ever created. Initial research into Yellow Nose’s life and works eventually led Joe to a lengthy and still ongoing investigation into ledger art of the Northern Plains. Joe’s area of research included the years 1820 to 1895, regions that include both the northern and southern plains, and tribes including Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux. His in-depth research is directly inspiring new works.

“My goal is to decipher the importance of ledger art and also present it in a new way that hasn’t been seen before,” Joe says from his New Mexico studio. “Those images need to be preserved and their traditions need to continue, and I want to use ledger as a way to frame these historic stories, but to do it in a new way and at the highest possible level of quality.”

After first showing his ledger-inspired oils at the Prix de West and then later the CAA’s annual show, Cowboy Crossings, Joe has expanded the series with new offerings, each of which is rendered in a ledger style, but with a contemporary edge. The works are often filled with symbols and story, all of which are heavily researched and catalogued by Joe, who, as a Southern Ute Tribal Historian, takes great pride in bringing history to life within his re-invented ledger works. While the journey for more historical information is still ongoing, the artist is now beginning to reach out to museums, curators and collectors to offer presentations on what he has learned, from ledger art to the Northern Plains, as well as discussions about his own journey as a sculptor and painter.