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Monday, July 9, 2012

A Rare Ledger Drawing by Squint Eyes: Native American Artist and Scout

Squint Eyes
Z.W. Bliss and Squint Eyes
Lead, ink and colored pencil on lined paper
Paper size: 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 inches
Frame size: 14 1/2 x 17 5/8 inches
Inscribed u.r.: Z.W. Bliss & Squint Eye
Ca. 1885

Ledger drawings are vivid compositions created by the Plains Indians.  Their name derives from the lined ledger books given to the natives by early settlers and military personnel. These original drawings, made by the Indians in the late nineteenth century, are valuable pictographic records of the stories, myths, cultural and historic events that effected the lives of Native Americans. The drawings are rooted in their own culture and are direct expressions of a centuries-old tradition of art. Pictographic imagery was most commonly used in petroglyphs or rock art, as well as on human adornments, such as buffalo robes. It was natural for colonized Indians of the nineteenth century to incorporate their rich artistic heritage into the images they drew in ledger books. The comparative ease of drawing with pencil and paper gave these artists freedom to create sacred pictographs without compromising the purity of their style.

One of the best known Native American artists was a Cheyenne named Squint Eyes, who was held prisoner at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida from 1875 to 1878. Upon his return to the Indian Territory, Squint Eyes continued his drawings, and in 1885 he joined the Army’s company of scouts and was assigned to Company B, Fort Supply, where he served as a scout for approximately three years under the command of Colonel Zenas R. Bliss, pictured here. Squint Eyes' drawings primarily depict Army officers, civilians and Cheyenne scouts engaged in hunting, an important part of Cheyenne cultural heritage and a favorite pastime of officers and enlisted men. The telltale characteristics of Squint Eyes’ drawings are the accurately detailed military clothing, arms and accoutrements of the scouts and officers and the novelty of English captions. Squint Eyes’ drawings are important as they provide a valuable insider view of Indian/Army interactions.

This drawing represents Squint Eyes in the dark blue fatigue coat with brass buttons and two yellow chevrons on the sleeves, denoting his rank as a non-commissioned officer. He is shown hunting deer with his commander, Colonel Zenas Bliss.

Most of Squint Eyes’ drawings are in the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution. This is a rare opportunity to acquire one of his original works.

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