Artist: Teri Greeves (b. 1970)
Media: #13 cut beads and blue shoelaces, Converse shoes
Dims: 6 x 12 in. (15.2 x 30.4 cm).
There are certain pieces in the Coe collection that are guaranteed to garner excitement from anyone who comes into our space. This pair of beaded Converse is absolutely one of those pieces. Visitors respond this way for various reasons. Some are familiar with their maker, Teri Greeves, and are thrilled to be able to pick up and handle a pair of her famous beaded sneakers. But plenty of our guests do not know about Teri or her work. They are immediately struck by the medium—a simple pair of Chucks, a shoe that everyone knows and has different associations with, whether it is basketball or punk rock, Chuck Taylors get around. The commonplace, the universal, here, is part of the power of Teri’s beaded Converse. It is part of what draws us in only to have us sit and absorb all the rest— how heavy they are, how intricate the beadwork is, how the images shimmer like they are moving when you shift them in the light, how the pictorial scenes are teaching us something regardless of the world from which we come.
Teri was born on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and was raised in her mother Jeri Ah-Be-Hill’s trading post. The powerful influence of growing up in this particular space, surrounded by beadwork and other Native arts and her mother’s wealth of deep cultural knowledge, continues to inform her work. Teri began beading as a child, learning from the women in her life, continuing the thread of generations of women before her. Even as she began beading on different surfaces and forms, the continuity remains unbroken. Teri speaks of the history of beads in Native North American making as an adaptation of a non-Native material (European glass beads) that has become recognized the world over as a Native American art. The process of Indigenization continues as contemporary artists employ contemporary materials—like Converse sneakers.
Teri made this particular pair of Converse when she had just become a new mother. The significance of the transition from daughter to mother and the intimate interlacing of these identities is central in this work. In a recent Coe and First American Art Magazine Collections Spotlight program with Jordan Poorman Cocker (Kiowa and Tongan), Teri spoke with Jordan about her Converse. She explained how at this time she was creating pieces about her own experiences as a new mother, a woman, a dancer. So, she illustrated, on the sneakers, the different dance styles that were close to her heart and showed them authentically in accurate detail. These ladies are not idealized and served to counter some of the stereotyped, generalized, and inaccurate images create by White artists.
This piece, titled “Indian Girls,” captures the movement of individual dancer’s styles on the two-dimensional plane. Each side of each shoe shows a different dancer; these are not only a pair of matching shoes, but, additionally, each shoe is a work of art, a sculpture, and a story in its own right, telling a scene from contemporary powwows. On one side is a woman in a Southern Plains cloth dress and another wearing a Southern Plains buckskin. On the other shoe is a fancy dancer and a jingle dress dancer. These are individuals, but they are also Dancers, with their backs to us focusing our attention on their incredible strength and power of movement and rhythm that is a sustaining force.
Ted bought these from Teri at the Eight Northern Pueblos art market in 2001. Teri had not met Ted before, but her mom knew him and commented on how significant it was for these shoes to move into Ted’s collection. Ted remembered the moment well, writing in his catalog record, At Teri Greeves’s table this delightful pair of highly pictorial beaded tennis shoes, almost reached out and said ‘hi.’ I said, ‘hello, and will you marry me’ and that was that. I considered Teri’s mother (Jeri Ab-Be-Hill) a marvelous trader… and here was her daughter offering what I considered to be masterpieces of Native beadwork depicting four Indian women sashaying in dance movement against a wine-red field. How Teri caught the easy gliding movement and almost nonchalant lack of self-consciousness on the part of the dancing ladies, in her pictorialization of them evades me to this day. Each time I pick up this pair of high-top tennis shoes, I feel a swishing to and for sense in my fingers. This lovely memory perfectly captures the moment when Ted first encountered Teri and how so many since have experienced the wonder in this pair of Chucks.
RTC No: NA0604
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011