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Terri Greeves: Kiowa Beadworker

The wearer becomes part of the work.

Indian Parade Umbrella, by Teri Greeves. Best of Show 1999, Santa Fe Indian Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico
photo by Don Marr

Indian Parade Umbrella, by Teri Greeves. Best of Show 1999, Santa Fe Indian Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico photo by Don Marr

When Teri Greeves saw the large yellow ribbon placed on her beaded umbrella, she glowed. As the ribbon began to draw collectors like honey draws bees, she got a taste of the benefits that come from winning Best of Show at the Santa Fe Indian Market. First, she sold the umbrella for $10,000 within the opening hours of the market. Then, her purses, moccasins, belts, and bracelets were snatched up; and finally, she was left with people crowding around her empty booth, hankering for more.

"I have no intention of making another one like it," says Greeves, a twenty-something Kiowa beadworker, about the umbrella. "You get a good idea and the first one blows you out of the water. The second one is never the same."

But there are some unusual "canvases" that Greeves does return to again and again, such as Converse sneakers. "My mother had a store on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming where Indians would come in and sell stuff. When I was 9 or 10, these old Sioux women brought in fully beaded tennis shoes with a geometric design. These were the coolest things my sister and I had ever seen."

Her first commission for sneakers came when she was in college and was by then a technically accomplished beadworker. An acquaintance of her mother's wanted a pair of sneakers with beaded jackalopes (a mythic western creature, part jackrabbit, part antelope) to give as a gift. "All my sneakers were pictorial after that."

Greeves always intends for her sneakers to be worn, not to collect dust on a shelf. "Beadwork is a way of decorating objects we use every day. The art form I chose is functional, and the wearer becomes part of the work." She adds, "With commissioned pieces, I like to know something about the person, if they have an affinity for a certain animal, for example. Other times, the inspiration is random. There are three horses living next to me that I can see from my window, so I incorporate horses into the work. My bracelets, which were done last summer at night, have bug motifs."

Commenting on her successful marriage of traditional Native beadwork and popular culture, Greeves says, "Indian beadwork comes from a long tradition. Techniques and ideas come from before me. My grandmother, a beadworker, is present in everything I do. We are also Native peoples of the year 2000."


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