The idea of Charnaye’s art project came to me because I had met the late George Flett at a craft fair on the Colville Reservation. We ended up trading books for art!
That was such an honor. What a remarkable and talented man.
It was that day I fell in love with ledger art. Since then I have bought two more prints of Mr. Flett’s work and two from fellow ledger artist Cheryl Grunlose. Watch her video.
I wanted to work ledger art into my novel somehow and decided it fit perfectly into the theme of horsewoman, Native woman, artist, creativity, drive. All the characteristics Charnaye exhibits. All the characteristics many Native youth shares.
I then gathered my vision for the project and wrote the scene:
“Char.” Jill reaches over and taps my shoulder with her pencil. It skims my peripheral vision, but my brain doesn’t connect it to the rest of me. “Char, did you hear me?”
I scowl. “What?” My focus sticks to my father in the cold hospital bed.
She shakes her head and in a whiny voice says, “What about our art project?”
I gaze down at the blank page. “What about a bay paint mare, an Okanogan girl, both she and her horse are in full regalia––blues, greens, purples, yellows.” Excitement cracks my bleak mood. “It would be cool to draw the horse and girl George Flett style on old ledger paper. Have you seen his work before?”
Jill shakes her head. “You mean vintage ledger paper used for recording finances?”
“Where do they get that kind of paper?”
“I don’t know where he gets the paper, but I think some of it is from U.S. Army ledger books. His work is awesome. I saw it in Inchelium a while back. We were over there with family one year for Thanksgiving and took in a craft fair at the Catholic Church hall. I met George and picked through his drawings. I wish I would have had the guts to talk with him and buy one. I remember seeing “North American Light Company” and “Western Union” in the background of a few prints. Some of the ledger dates are early 1900s.”
Jill taps her lips with a finger. “Is he Colville?”
I pull out a sheet of paper Mrs. Larson printed out for me of him wearing a blue denim shirt and blue jeans. He’s posing on a chair in what appears to be a museum or art gallery. Behind him hangs three of his paintings and two pieces of men’s dance bustles on the wall beside his art. I hand it to Jill.
“Hmm,” She points to the bottom of the picture. “ ‘Rick Singer Photography.’ ” She gives me a judgmental look.
“I’m not selling it.” I study the photo. “And no, he’s Spokane.” I scrunch my nose.
“Right.” Jill chuckles. “His work is incredible.”
Once I had all the pieces for the drawing – an example of ledger paper, a woman and horse in regalia, and a traditional bow, arrows, and quiver – it was time to find the artist. A Native student, preferably a Colville Tribal member since that is what main character Charnaye Toulou is from was my goal. All the artists I knew had already graduated.
And then one day, I strolled into the Inchelium School and found new Hornet T-shirts designed by Katlyn Watt displayed in the foyer. After finding her in class, I was headed to work in the after-school program at the time, we arranged to meet. She agreed to draw the picture for commission as a sophomore in high school.
This month, Katlyn graduates from high school. I am so proud of her and her artistry. Katlyn not only paints and draws she also is a magnificent beader and had beaded her own cap and eagle feather. She is an amazing young woman and I wish her the best.
You can find the drawing in black and white on the dedication page of the print version of Girl Warrior and in color in the digital format.
Preorder here: Girl Warrior
George Flett was a member of the Spokane Tribe and lived in Wellpinit, Washington. Upon graduation from High School, he attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from 1964 – 1966. At the Institute, George studied painting and silversmithing. Following service in the United States Army for two years, George worked in the museum field for over eleven years. He considers himself a “full-time Indian Artist” since 1983, working primarily in Acrylic painting, as well as embossing of papers, ledger style drawing and silversmithing.
Something else I’d like to share with you is my new Facebook Group: Carmen Peone’s Western Tales. I’d like to invite you to the page for a chance to read and review Girl Warrior. Just follow the links.