Tuesday, March 24, 2009
TERRANCE GUARDIPEE: Ledger Art
This is what the text of the page above says:
Terrance Guardipee is an internationally acclaimed Blackfeet painter and ledger artist whose work is featured in the permanent collections at the National Museu of American Indian in the Washington DC, Smithsonian, the Gene Autry Museum, the Museum of Arts and Culture in Santa Fee, New Mexico, the Hockaday Museum, the Dakota Museum, the Margrett Casey Foundation Art Collection, the Hood Museum of Dartmouth, the Heard Museum, the CM Russell Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History in Hanover, Germany, all feature Terrance’s artwork. Terrance is in numerous art collections.
Terrance studied at the Institute of American Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was the first ledger artist to incorporate antique maps, music paper, war ration coupons, and antique checks in his work. At the 2007 Harvest Moon Ball (in East Glacier, Montana) Terrance held the unprecedented top bid of $22,000 on his piece entitled “big sky the northern pacific railroad,” an antique map and ledger piece. Most recently at the 2008 Santa Fe Art Market, Terrance was awarded first place in his category as well as best of his division.
A featured artist for the 2008 Anniversary Heard Museum Indian Art Market, Terrance created “The Black Horse Society,” one of the ponies for the Trail of the Painted Ponies, to benefit student scholarships. Terrance Guardipee was a featured artist at the National Smithsonian Indian Museum in 2007.
When the plains tribe warriors were captured, they were often taken to Oklahoma or the southeast for holding in old forts, I suppose because there were facilities left from the Civil War. They weren’t exactly high-grade and one thinks of Guantanamo. In this strange climate and away from everything they knew, the men needed something to do. One of their occupations at home had been painting their war stories onto buffalo robes or tipi liners and so they asked for something to draw on. Their captors gave them old business ledgers, even though there were all those lines and maybe some writing. Thus was born “ledger art,” stylized war stories painted onto old ledger pages of the bureaucracy that held them captive.
When I first ran across Terrance Guardipee’s ledger art, I saw that he was Blackfeet, and then I stood up close to the paintings to read the names on the pages under his warriors. To my shock and delight, I knew the people who were listed! At least I DID know them in the Sixties when I lived in Browning. Many are gone. It seems Terrance lucked onto a pile of ledgers discarded after all the information was transferred to modern computers. His work is remarkable, not because I could recognize the people in his ledgers, but because of its inventiveness, mixture of tradition and irony, and skillful composition. His work is finer and sells for more than the work at the “big” CM Russell Auction, but here it was at the “Indian” art show.
Who was this guy? His table was tended by a prosperous and pretty Indian lady with her spiel down pat. There was a pile of the “SAY” magazine that you see the above page from. Since I first saw his work, I had asked around about him, but didn’t find out anything that rang a bell. I went on. Circled around. Saw a big guy with a fancy haircut -- shaved sides, ponytail. Probably the style has a name. Went over to talk to him, thinking, “Gee, he sure looks familiar.”
He was Terrance Guardipee. “Who’s your grandmother?” I asked in my faux knowledgeable way. “Nora Kipp.” My jaw dropped. “You’re related to Darrell Kipp?” “I’m his nephew.”
He was Geraldine Kipp’s son. Geraldine was one of my earliest students at Browning High School and always stood out in my memory as what I consider to be archetypal Blackfeet women, except not so tiny. Prized Blackfeet women were always modest, quiet, competent, dependable, intelligent and organized. They were the shelter and nurture of families who could absolutely depend upon them and therefore were confident of achievement. For the last decades she has been the mainstay of the Piegan Institute, calmly keeping the books and answering questions at her desk, taking the payroll checks to track down Darrell and get his signature if he’s in town. Never seeking the spotlight herself. Always quick with a smile.
So here’s Terrance, huge, stylish, calm, aware. “You know, Terrance,” I said. “I’ve looked at the family tree of your family, which you know comes down from Kipp but is at the core Heavy Runner, and the family trees of some of the other achieving people in this tribe, and what catches my eye is not the MEN who carry the family names in the English way, but a woman named “Blue Bead Woman.” He knew.
The name “Blue Bead Woman” refers to the single blue bead on a thong that is worn on the neck and wrists of a Bundle Keeper. It is a special sign. Bundle Keepers were serious people, dependable, protective, wise. He knew.
I said, “Sometimes I think i would be a good thing to write a novel about Blue Bead Woman, to create a life for her that would explain why seven generations of descent would still carry her pride.”
He knew. “Do it!” he said. He didn’t say, “That’s MY story and only I get to tell it!” He said, “Why not?”
I should try to make it like a ledger book, riders and lodges and that dream moth, all across a map, a list of pay-outs, ration cards, and train tickets. Over the top, the original lives of the People resurgent, triumphant.
Fifty or a hundred years from now, a run-of-the-mill cowboy painting will hang somewhere unremarked. A Terrance Guardipee ledger painting will be more precious than it is even now.