Glass beads became available to American Indian tribes through European production and trade. Different techniques of beadwork help to achieve different visual effects.
Some leather is more firm or softer than another. Geography and climate influence what thickness of leather is appropriate to use and also informs what type of animal hide would be most useful to achieve a certain thickness. In colder climates, the fur of the animal may be included in the construction of the moccasins with the intention of keeping the feet warm for travel.
Depending on the tribe and the geography, different shapes and patterns can help to reveal the type of person the moccasins are made for. Each tribe, or groups within a tribe, has their own set of symbols that either hold a deeper meaning or are simply for aesthetic purposes. From one pair of moccasins to another, there is evidence of patterning throughout, whether it’s through beading technique, imagery, or color. Look for the geometric patterns found on the Sioux and Crow moccasins and the nature-inspired designs on the Ojibwa moccasins.
What is it?
These moccasins were made with buckskin, leather, and beadwork, and were created by a Crow artist. This pair was made in the 1950’s and came to the Denver Art Museum in 1991.
What inspired it?
Moccasin History & Use: The term “moccasin” originated from the Algonquian Tribe’s language, but each tribe has their own word for them in their own language. Moccasins were originally created as a practical necessity. As tribes travelled through different terrains and climates, the moccasins provided protection. Today, moccasins are a big part of a dancer’s regalia for Powwow.
Design: Different styles and designs of everyday moccasins are inspired by and created in relation to the environment(s) that particular tribe experiences. For example, tribes from the Woodland areas including the North Eastern part of the US and into Canada (like the Ojibwa and Penobscot tribes) can be identified by their soft-soled moccasins and their use of floral elements located on the top, or vamp and/or cuffs of the moccasin. In contrast, Plains (tribes like Crow and Sioux) moccasins are known to have the top, or vamp (usually excluding cuffs) entirely covered in glass beads or porcupine quills and made with hard soles that withstand rough terrain.
How is it made?
It is possible that the harder and thicker sole of the boots were created by sewing multiple layers of leather together. This approach is especially useful for those travelling over rough terrain, as the soles are more durable.