George Flett's Spirit World
Flett often adds one or more layers, or planes, of other media. And he adds a spiritual dimension as well. For Flett still lives in the world that contains the unseen as well as the seen. He often rides one of his horses through the land of his ancestors. "There are still spirits around this area from these people,” he tells us, “the strong feelings of their spirits [are] around us."And he tries to pass his experience of such power down to the viewer in spirit images. The spirit world pervades many of Flett's drawings. This page focuses on a variety of ways Flett developed to represent it's power since 2003.
In the 1890s through 1910, there were. . . relatives who lived in the Oyaken Creek area on the Spokane Reservation. And I can remember my mother telling me stories about these relatives. They would have their winter medicine dances or they might ride to various family locations out there or maybe have meetings or talk about, for example around 1910 . . . the reservation land allotments.To this day I think I can really understand more and more and more about the traditions these people had. . . . Sometimes I ride horses into that area, just to get a feeling of what might have happened back in the earlier years when some of our elders lived up [there].When I do these pieces of ledger work, I try to put their feelings into what I do. . . . Maybe 20, 50 years down the road these pieces will become more important, because it's really getting harder and harder and harder to remember some of the old legends that were told to me by family members.--George Flett narrating exhibit
On the upper right is an image cut out of a tin-type photograph (copy). It is of Shwin-whit (Green Leaves or John Stephens) and daughter; John Stevens was one of Flett's ancestors living in the Oyaken Creek area. The photograph was used on Spokane tribal stationery until the early 1970s. (See detail below.)
To the left is a tipi, within which we can see the brown silhouettes of four tribal leaders, including Strong Eagle.
A warrior is standing outside with his spear and shield. Under the piece is written, “The doorman will guard them. He sees a horse turning into a buffalo eagle in his dreams.” Slightly below and embossed across the entire 1907 ledger is the doorman’s vision of a horse turning into a buffalo eagle. The embossed spirit seems to move in the changing light, bringing the historic spiritual experience into the present.
Small horse spirits are drawn on the surface of the photograph and the tipi, connecting the native and Euroamerican technologies of historic representation, which relate in their different ways to the competing grounds of the ledger and embossed spirit.
Strong Eagle, Flett's famous ancestor, is empowered by his guardian spirit as he leads his warriors to battle. The power is reflected in the dynamic colors as well as the embossed spirit
image and the eagle.
Scott Thompson points out that there are three different bonnets in this picture: flared, horned, and sissken—a medicine headdress, where the feathers represent the rays of the sun. Only warriors with strong spirit-helper-assistance were entitled to wear the latter two. Strong Eagle wears the sissken bonnet.
As Hertha Wong tells us, warriors used their ledger drawings to establish their individual/tribal identities, showcasing their heroic deeds to bring honor to their tribe as well as their families and themselves.
Flett carries this tradition into the twenty-first century with this drawing of Strong Eagle (an ancestor in his father's side) galloping over a montage of records documenting his certificate of enrollment, posters and records of his various; and three photo transfers. The old photos, which serve as spirit memories, are of John Stevens (an ancestor on his mother's side) and his wife, their daughter Amelia, and their son John Stevens.jr.
An important and respected member of the Spokane tribe, Flett's ledger art and awards preserve tribal traditions and bring honor to his people.
He is empowered by the spirit horses, drawn on the green film between the figure and montage-ground, as well as the spirit memories of his ancestors.
Also see George Flett's Ledger Art, Women in George Flett's Ledger Art, and George Flett's Prairie Chicken Dancers.