Raised on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming among the Shoshone and Northern Arapaho, Teri Greeves was taught to bead by friends and relatives who came to her mother’s trading post. Her first project was a pair of beaded baby moccasins. She discovered a lifelong love of shoes.
She didn’t have to rely just on items at the trading post for inspiration for subsequent projects: her mother’s collection of beaded clothing and accessories exposed Greeves to beading not only as art, but also as an aesthetic and cultural language. Memories of her mother’s collection include standing in a walk-in closet that housed many pairs of moccasins and numerous hanging medallion necklaces. “As a young girl, I liked to close myself in her closet, turn off the light, let the smell of smoked deer hide permeate the air, and feel those cool beads on my fingertips.”
Although Greeves’ beadwork is seen as traditional, she offers a caveat about the term—glass beadwork wasn’t a traditional art form prior to contact with Europeans. And the items were produced were used as barter items–rather than as art or ritual goods. Previously, Native Americans used paint, quills, and handmade beads. Greeves comments, “By getting caught up in ‘traditional’ versus ‘contemporary’ we miss the point that all art evolves. Beadwork is no different. When new materials are available, when new perspectives are incorporated, our culture, our American culture becomes richer.”
Greeves is enriching global visual culture with her particular beaded evolutions: whimsical beaded tennis shoes, which were initially inspired by a pair made by a Lakota woman, whose nation is well-known for its beading skills. The first pair sported a geometric design; the next was pictorial. Greeves realized she could tell stories of contemporary Native American life with beaded illustrations that dealt with history, culture and daily life. “Making beaded tennis shoes is simply a continuance of something started long before me: the idea that personal adornment can be an expression of self, of society, of tribe, and of humanity.”