Twenty-eight T.F. Riggs High School art students studied South-Dakota-specific art first-hand at the State Archives, Friday, Oct. 18.
Art instructor Jill Kokesh arranged for her artisans to view up-close the archives’ collection of drawings from the Mary Collins Collection.
“Art covers all years, materials, people,” said Matthew Reitzel, archivist with the South Dakota State Historical Society — Cultural Heritage Center. He said that Ledger Art is iconic Native American drawings done, originally, in the late 1800s on the fronts and backs of ledger paper, “paper probably gotten from the missionaries or agents at reservations,” said Reitzel.
“Jay (director of the center) and Elizabeth Vogt (have been very supportive of me and my students whenever I teach a lesson on Ledger Art,” said Kokesh. “They have bought student ledger art in the past from my students. We are getting ready for the Lakota Nation Invitational Art Competition, and hope to have some good Ledger Art entries from this lesson plan. That is why having the copies of original S.D. ledger pages are so important. We have parents and staff members who seriously collect/purchase the student artwork.”
“Manuscript” collections in the State Archives refer to all unpublished materials received from non-government sources. These materials include letters, diaries, scrapbooks, family papers, and minutes, reports, and correspondence files of businesses and organizations. Photographs, sound and video recordings, and other media are found in many of the collections.
The Mary Collins Collection is from Mary Collins, who began her mission work in Dakota Territory with Reverend and Mrs. Thomas L. Riggs at the Oahe Mission near Fort Sully. Collins was admired by the population of Little Eagle, who named her Princess. As preacher, teacher and doctor, she was adopted by Sitting Bull into his tribe.
The Collins Collection is personal papers — mostly from 1880 through the 1890s — containing genealogical material, Collins’ autobiography in her own hand, ordination papers, her will, and a certificate appointing her postmaster.
Reitzel said the collection of Ledger Art contains approximately 50 pieces, with drawings on front and back of many pieces that total around 100. About half of the collection, preserved in plastic sheets, was available to the students.
The students finished their visit by viewing several samples of Winter Count, a record of history through drawn pictographs that represent the years, which are measured from first snow to first snow. Usually drawn on hide, these pictographs are often organized in spiral rows. They were organized in chronological order so that the winter count provided an outline of events for the community’s oral historian.