What is it?
These moccasins were made with skin, treated with colorant, and beadwork, and were created by a Sioux artist. This pair came to the Denver Art Museum in 1933.
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. This hard-sole style, however, only dates back to the mid-nineteenth century.
How is it made?
Moccasin Assembly: Moccasins are commonly made using hides of different animals; the larger the animal, the thicker and more sturdy the hide. In order to create a polished look, the moccasin is sewn inside out, historically using sinew (pronounced sin-yoo; tendon or ligament) as thread. The sinew is threaded through holes punched by an awl (pronounced all, a pointed tool meant to create holes in leather). The fabric pieces for the moccasin vary according to tribe, region, and stylistic preference. Sometimes, the artist uses recycled hide from other items in the construction of the moccasins. For example, some soles are cut from old painted parfleches made from strong and durable hide.
For this blue leather pair, the colors used to dye leathers are either locally sourced from the surrounding environment, or traded with other groups. Some plants used to achieve a blue color in the dyeing process include indigo, woad, and russian sage. However, it’s uncertain whether this pair was dyed using natural plants and, if it was, which plants would have been used.
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. In this pair, the soft leather is dyed blue.