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Pulliam preserving family’s ledger art legacy
By Kerri Rempp, Northwest Nebraska Tourism Director
Throughout history, generations have learned about those who came before through song, stories and art. Nowhere are those traditions more imperative than in the Native American culture. Plains Indians who populated what is today known as Northwest Nebraska passed their traditions from one generation to the next.
Today, artist Joe Pulliam continues the custom of his ancestors as he creates ledger art. Ledger art takes its name from the source of paper Native Americans began to use as European settlement moved westward. As tribes came into possession of ledgers, ink and pens, their artists expanded their craft, which had primarily consisted of using bone fragments and earth pigments to paint on shields and robes.
“This really represented the next step in art,” Pulliam said. “They were adapting to new materials.”
A native of Pine Ridge, Pulliam worked as a graphic designer for 10 years before learning about the connection of his people to ledger art after being introduced to the medium by Nebraska artist Daniel Long Soldier.
“The historical aspect of ledger art drew me to it,” Pulliam said during a recent stint as the artist-in-residence at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center in Chadron.
When Pulliam discovered his great-great-uncle, Amos Bad Heart Bull, had been a prolific ledger artist, it cemented his decision to carry on the tradition. Bad Heart Bull’s father served as the historian for the Oglala Lakota and after becoming a scout for the U.S. Army, which included time at Fort Robinson, Bad Heart Bull followed in his father’s footsteps detailing the history of his people. According to Northern Plains Reservation Aid, Bad Heart Bull created 415 ledger art drawings on used ledger pages over the course of 20 years. The drawings depict Oglala Lakota life before 1856, followed by the conflicts with the Crow from 1856-1875 and the Battle of Little Bighorn, in which his father fought.
Bad Heart Bull’s original pieces were buried with his sister, Dolly Pretty Cloud, but were documented by photographer Helen Blish, said Laure Sinn, of the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center. Staff at the center discovered Blish’s book in the center’s archives – a gift to Mari Sandoz at some point – and Bad Heart Bull’s connection with Northwest Nebraska and created the current gallery showing “Native American Legacies.” The show, which runs through Dec. 13, includes reprints of many of Bad Heart Bull’s ledger art pieces, as well as original creations by Pulliam.
Using Blish’s work as a focal point, the show also features Honoring Quilts donated by Roxie Puchner and a display calling attention to missing and murdered indigenous women. Blish herself has connections to the region, as her father, William, was assigned to work with the Oglala Sioux on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation while employed with the Department of Interior’s Indian Bureau, according to History Nebraska. After graduating from college in 1922, Blish taught English in Gordon for a time before returning to her native Michigan. When it came time for her to write her master’s thesis, she began looking for examples of Plains art, an endeavor that led to her 1934 manuscript “A Photographic History of the Oglala Sioux” featuring Bad Heart Bull’s work.
Pulliam said research is a key part of his ledger art as he finds ways to preserve the culture and history.
“I’m exploring new ways to portray history in a modern light,” he said.
A piece he calls “Indigitized” represents Native American’s struggle with identity as they always have “one foot in history and one foot in the present,” Pulliam said. “Warrior Society” depicts fierce defenders in Oglala Lakota history who were also among the most generous people of the tribe, proving they were equally valuable in times of peace as they were in war. Pulliam hopes his art inspires the return of those values to society while additionally calling injustices to light, as he does in another piece inked on an 1892 Sheridan County land deed, to represent government-ignored treaties.
While his great-great-uncle used present-day ledgers for his creations, Pulliam scours the internet, antique shops, thrift stores and yard sales in search of ledgers to use in his work.
“The search is always on,” he said.
Pulliam is also active in social justice issues and is a supporter of the White Clay Maker Space, an effort to provide economic sustainability to Lakota living in the area. A recovering alcoholic, Pulliam said while the maker space’s business-aspect is important, he is more focused on empowering himself and his people through art and providing the healing he finds in the creative process.
Improvement Grant Applications Being Accepted
The Dawes and Sioux County Travel Boards are each accepting applications for improvement grants to enhance visitor attractions in both counties.
Applications will be reviewed by each board in January, and interested public and non-profit entities are encouraged to begin the application process now. Attractions must apply for the improvement grant in their respective county only.
Improvement grant funds are available to expand or improve existing visitor attractions, acquire or expand exhibits or construct visitor attractions. The grants are funded by the proceeds of a lodging tax on motel/hotel/campground lodging in Dawes and Sioux counties, as authorized under the Nebraska Visitors Development Act.
“We are continuing to see increased interest in Northwest Nebraska, and improved attractions will allow us to build on that momentum,” said Northwest Nebraska Tourism Director Kerri Rempp.
Dawes County applications are due Dec. 27, and Sioux County applications are due Jan. 1, 2020. Applications and a complete list of guidelines can be found at DiscoverNWNebraska.com.
Each county also offers promotional grants to assist with advertising, signage and other promotional materials. The Dawes County Travel Board reviews applications for promotional grants each month; Sioux County accepts those grant applications on Jan. 1, April 1 and Oct. 1. Visit Discover NWNebraska.com or call 308-432-3006 for more information.
909 Nebraska Passport participants travel to every stop
This summer, travelers celebrated the Nebraska Passport Program’s 10th anniversary by touring the state and collecting stamps in record breaking numbers. This year, 909 participants submitted Passports with all 70 stops stamped, versus 769 in 2018 and 469 in 2017. These “Passport Champions” hail from Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington.
“Over the 2019 Passport season, I heard so many wonderful stories from our participants. Ranging from someone who takes their 98-year-old grandma around Nebraska every year to how a young boy begs his mom to take him back to Springfield Drug because he loved their milkshakes so much,” said Madison Schlake, Passport Program Coordinator. “Almost every day I was flooded with stories of family, friendship and genuine love for our beautiful state. Our “Passporters” are what makes this program so successful.”
2019 Nebraska Passport Statistics:
- From submitted Passports, 154,755 total stamps were collected.
- Participants included residents from 448 Nebraska communities and 37 states.
- Passport participants ranged in age from 3-months-old to 98-years-old.
- Participants submitted over 600 stories of their travels on nebraskapassport.com.
- There were 22.5% more accounts on the Nebraska Passport app in 2019 than 2018.
“I’m not a native Nebraskan, so I’ve been able to use the Passport Program to help me explore the state in the three years that I’ve been here. This year I made it to 51 stops!” said John Ricks, Nebraska Tourism Commission executive director. “This program has continued to grow and every year it’s exciting to see how many people in Nebraska are exploring the state beyond their backyard.”
In 2017, the Nebraska Passport program generated nearly $6 million in travel spending throughout the state and $469,500 in state and local tax revenue, according to a study done by Dean Runyan & Associates.
Be a 2020 Nebraska Passport Stop
Not only does the Nebraska Passport program benefit travelers through helping them create life-long memories, the program greatly benefits the 70 chosen Passport stops through increased traffic, sales and awareness.
Applications are now being accepted for Nebraska Tourism’s 2020 Passport program. Any Nebraska destination is welcome to apply to become a Passport stop. Past stops have included museums, restaurants, outdoor adventures, retail stores, etc.
To complete the 2020 Passport online application, as well as to view information about Passport stop requirements, how the program benefits Passport stops, and details about the application process, go to: http://nebraskapassport.com/passport-details/application/. The application deadline is December 31, 2019. Questions about participating in the program can be directed to email@example.com
Window to the World: Trade stories at the Chadron Public Library
By Kerri Rempp, Northwest Nebraska Director of Tourism
Mention the word library, and most folks think of nothing more than shelves of books. But as the world has changed, so too have our local libraries. The abundance of books and the importance of the written word remains, but libraries have become centers for makerspaces, educational classes, access to computer programs and the internet.
In Chadron, the public library hosts yoga classes, virtual reality events, craft sessions and more. In October, the Chadron Public Library and the Library Foundation reached a milestone with its sixth annual Trading Stories Native American Film Festival. Traditionally held during the annual Fur Trade Days celebration, the library this year moved the film festival to October as a standalone event.
For three days, the library screened documentaries and films, hosted speakers and offered traditional Native American food to pay tribute to the often-forgotten stories of the people who called this region home before European settlement. Films such as “Neither Wolf Nor Dog” and “Tiger Eyes” and the discussions that accompanied them provided opportunities to connect across cultures and served as a reminder that we all share the same human experiences.
Filmed on the Pine Ridge Reservation, “Warrior Women” depicted the contributions of mothers and daughters during the American Indian Movement of the 1970s. Documentaries like “Rumble” brought the connection across generations as it detailed the important influence Native American musicians have had on the music to which we listen.
“Ohiyesa, The Spirit of an Indian” told the story of Charles Eastman, who cared for injured Native Americans at Wounded Knee. The film was so popular during the festival organizers ended up showing it three times instead of once, as intended.
Trading Stories films were screened for more than 200 people, with many individuals traveling to Chadron from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Hot Springs and Rapid City, South Dakota.
For anyone with a desire to learn more about Native American culture, history and its impact on life in the Pine Ridge region, the annual Trading Stories event is a great place to start.
But don’t wait until next year’s event to visit the Chadron Public Library. The library has an extensive Indigenous Peoples of North America Collection. Designated by a red sticker or the IPNA code, the materials include Native American music, films and books.
And if you’re looking for something else, it’s likely you’ll find it at the library as well. With nearly 79,000 items in its collection, the Chadron Public Library is sure to hold something of interest for anyone. Staff also host frequent events, including preschool story time each Thursday at 10:30 a.m., a Game/STEM Club on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m., and Lego Club on the first and third Mondays of each month, also at 6:30 p.m. The Friends of the Library also opens the annex next door to the library during the second weekend of each month with great bargains on books of every genre.
The Chadron Public Library is planning a Halloween Party for Nov. 2 from 2-4 p.m. and will host a Christmas party later in the year.
Also coming up is the Innovation Studio Maker Fair. The Chadron Public Library has been a host site for the Innovation Studio Maker Space since July. The library’s six months are almost up, however, and the makerspace stations will be moving on. To celebrate the creativity inspired by the presence of the Innovation Studio equipment, the staff will host a Maker Fair Nov. 9 and are inviting everyone who created items in the makerspace to bring their creations to display.
The Chadron Public Library is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from noon to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Library cards are available to residents of Dawes, Sioux and Sheridan counties, as well as residents of Hemingford. For more information, contact the library at 308-432-0531, stop by at 507 Bordeaux Street or visit chadronpubliclibrary.com.