Beaded High Tops by Teri Greeves

Pair of beaded, child-sized Converse high tops
Beaded High Tops
Maker
Teri Greeves
Origin
Kiowa

Details

Detail of beadwork using shades of blue and gold beads in the shape of a diamond
Beads

Glass beads were originally introduced to American Indians by European traders. Teri says that when her ancestors first started using beads instead of paint to create designs, they turned the beads into “something very Kiowa…something very Native.”

Detail of beaded animal, possibly deer, in light blue beads on the side of a child sized pair of Converse high tops
Design

Kiowa women traditionally painted abstract geometric designs on objects while men created pictorial images, but as time went on women began beading pictorial designs too. Here, Teri has combined diamond-shaped patterns with what appear to be stylized horses. Teri does not usually depict animals in this style!

Image of the back of a beaded pair of child-sized Converse high tops with fringe and beads hanging off the back
Heel of the shoe

Dangling attachments like these can be seen on many beaded pouches, moccasins, and other Native-made objects both from today and from the past. The cones were originally made by hand from tin cans, but can be made by machine today. They make a jingling sound, and therefore add a sound element to any pieces that they are attached to. Also, take note of the shapes stitched onto the back of the shoe itself. They look like hoof prints from a horse!

Image of beaded child-sized Converse high tops
High Top Shoes

Both in the past and today, many Native American artists create and bead moccasins; shoes made from animal skin. Here, Teri is taking the art of beadwork and applying it to a popular, contemporary type of shoe. She usually beads adult-sized shoes, but these ones are for a little kid! Educating or celebrating her children are often goals of Teri’s work.

About

What is it?

This is a small pair of beaded tennis shoes, or more specifically, a pair of child-sized All Star Converse.

Teri says, “in America, across the planet, you’ve either owned a pair of these, your kids have owned a pair of these, you’ve played basketball in these, you had good times in them, you did your own little graffiti on them, you’ve worn them out – they are familiar, and this familiar object is a perfect vehicle for me to tell a story with.”

Who made it?

“I am a beadworker. I’ve been beading since I was about 8 years old. I am compelled to do it. I have no choice in the matter. I must express myself and my experience as a 21st Century Kiowa and I do it, like all those unknown artists before me, through beadwork. And though my medium may be considered “craft” or “traditional,” my stories are from the same source as the voice running through that first Kiowa beadworker’s needles. It is the voice of my grandmothers.” –Teri Greeves

Beadwork artist Teri Greeves was born in 1970 to a Kiowa mother, Jeri Ah-be-hill, and an Italian-American father, sculptor Richard Greeves. Teri Greeves was raised Kiowa and grew up on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. She watched as her mother sold beadwork and began beading when she was eight years old. She later went to the University of California, Santa Cruz and graduated in 1995 with a degree in American studies. Teri is best known for her beaded high-heels and tennis shoes. It is her hope that everything she creates will educate people, whether she is teaching her sons about Kiowa stories so that they can pass them down to future generations, or communicating what it means to be a Native person in the twenty-first century.

What inspired it?

When Teri was thirteen, a Lakota artist brought a pair of beaded tennis shoes into her mother’s trading post, and Teri fell in love with them. Years later, when Teri was in college, her mother called and asked her to bead a pair of high-top tennis shoes. It was her first time doing such a project and she was overwhelmed at how much work it would take, but she did it. She has been making beaded tennis shoes ever since, and says that Converse are a great way for making stories accessible to other people. Greeves chooses the high top shoe, an unconventional material, to underscore the adaptability and ingenuity of Native artists. Traditionally and still today, artists bead moccasins. In contrast, Teri adapts the art of beadwork to the canvas of a shoe. It is her way of telling stories in new ways.

She says that when she has a new idea for a project, it is like having a rock in her shoe – it stays with her until she does something about it.

How is it made?

Teri’s beadwork usually starts with a drawing, which she then simplifies down into basic lines. After applying the drawings to the surface she is working on, she brings the designs to life by stitching rows of colorful beads onto the object. For these shoes, she appears to have used a combination of lane stitch and two-needle applique.

Drawing of Lazy Stitch Drawing Credit: Barbara Hail, Hau, Kola! The Plains Indian Collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology University of Washington Press, 1993
The lane stitch, also called a lazy stitch, involves attaching a string of beads to a surface by sewing it down at each end. There are usually anywhere from six to eleven beads in a row, and this technique can be used to cover a large area quickly.

Drawing of Spot Stitch Drawing Credit: Barbara Hail, Hau, Kola! The Plains Indian Collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology University of Washington Press, 1993
As for two-needle applique, it requires two needles, just like it sounds. The first needle holds the thread with the beads on it, and the second is used to tack down the beads by hooking the second thread over the first and sewing it down after every two beads. This allows for very precise placement of beads, which is helpful for creating complicated designs.