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The Harwood Museum of Art

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News on Dwayne Wilcox's exhibition, "Skipped the Light Fandango”
March 08, 2010

News on Dwayne Wilcox's exhibition, "Skipped the Light Fandango”

Now showing at the Harwood, “Dwayne Wilcox: Skipped the Light Fandango,” features twenty-one works made with colored pencil on antique ledger paper. Mr. Wilcox’s work gives us a glimpse into the creative musings of a contemporary Native American artist. Using biting satire while addressing long-standing issues of social justice, Wilcox creates work that is thought provoking and darkly comic.  

The following is from a brochure published by The Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, New Hampshire that has recently exhibited Mr. Wilcox’s work:

“Ledger Art represents a transitional form of Plains Indian artistry corresponding to the forced reduction of Plains tribes to government reservations roughly between 1860 and 1900. Due to the destruction of the buffalo herds and other game animals of the Great Plains by Anglo-Americans during and after the Civil War, painting on buffalo hide gave way to works on paper, muslin, canvas, and occasionally commercially prepared cow or buffalo hides.

When the Southern Plains Indian Wars ended in 1875, U.S. troops captured seventy-two of the most influential Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Caddo, and Comanche warriors accused of suspected crimes against settlers and soldier, and for the next three years imprisoned them at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida. Their internment intended to ensure the peaceful conduct of their tribes on the reservations. Unexpectedly, it also supported ledger drawing as a popular new genre of Native arts. Recognizing their talent, Capt. Richard C. Pratt, officer in charge of Ft. Marion, provided his captives with pencils, crayons, pens, watercolors, ledger books, autograph booklets, and sketchbooks, encouraging them to draw their memories and recent experiences.

Recording their new impressions, the ledger artists expanded the pre-reservation repertoire from autobiographic and nostalgic depictions of traditional Plains life to observations of landscapes, cityscapes, education, regimentation, and processes of assimilation.

While the Fort Marion captives often gave ledger drawings to their teachers and local families with whom they developed close ties, Pratt gave drawings to official delegates to promote his theories on Indian education. He also encouraged St. Augustine townspeople and vacationing tourists to the area -- mostly New Englanders -- to support this new art form by purchasing the ledger books as souvenirs and employing his prisoners. Pratt argued that the prisoners’ close interaction with the community, which he called the "outing system," was an important step in their assimilation. The commercialization of ledger art not only immersed the prisoners into the capitalist economy but also provided evidence of the success of their Americanization. The prisoners used the income to support their impoverished families on the reservations or to buy extra comforts during captivity.

These processes of assimilation were visibly evident in the ledger drawings created at Fort Marion, as artists increasingly moved away from pre-reservation pictographic conventions. Due to their intensive interaction with their American patrons in St. Augustine, the Fort Marion artists developed a drawing style that differed from ledger art created on the reservations at that time. The artists experimented with new pictographic conventions that not only merged western techniques of scale, perspective, representation, and composition with Plains conventions but also reflected the prisoners' rigorous exposure to Pratt's assimilation and indoctrination methods.”

Mr. Wilcox is an Olgala Lakota born in South Dakota in 1957 and enrolled on the Pine Ridge Reservation there. He is entirely self-taught, learning from friends and family. “I lived in Washington DC for a few years and I managed to go through every museum archive I came across that contained ledger art,” Wilcox explains. “Ledger art has such a deep feel and I found it the most versatile of all Lakota arts.”

“What a delight to find a contemporary artist who has taken the medium to the next level,” says curator Brenneman. “Comedic, clever and profound, Dwayne Wilcox’s ledger drawings are entirely about what life is like at the ‘moment,’ using a medium that has great historical significance. We eagerly welcome him to the Harwood Museum!”