Teri Greeves, a Kiowa bead worker originally from the Wind River reservation in Wyoming, remembers being eight years old and asking her mother, for the first time, if she could take some thread and needles at the bead shop of her trading post. "You cannot take them," was Jeri Ah-be-hill's reply. "You can buy them."
So eight-year-old Teri started her career as a beadworker. She later attended the University of California in Santa Cruz, and moved to Santa Fe. Greeves' father is Richard Greeves, an Italian-American sculptor.
Greeves has applied her expert beadwork to a wide variety of subjects, but her signature pieces are most likely her magnificent tennis shoes and stylish high heel boots. Footwear is a fitting choice, as a constant theme is the journey, walking in two worlds, and the artistic itinerary between past and present.
How did you move from traditional beadwork to such a contemporary object as a beaded tennis shoe?
It has been a long trail to where I am now as a bead worker. I started with moccasins and bags, but realized it was limiting. I had a contemporary creative vision, where the story becomes more important than the objects. So I started beading tennis shoes, understanding that I could tell a story by beading around objects.
My inspiration comes from a historical, cultural, or religious moment I am wondering about: When my kids were born, I was thinking about what they should know, and started to bead specific stories integrating Kiowa icons or treaty issues, to tell them about our history. This is how I work, and a lot of what I do is also related to women‘s issues: mothers, women’s warrior status. I make sculptures, jewels, paintings — you can use beadwork on any object! How I can manipulate the medium in those objects is the challenge. And my shoes are often bought as art pieces. I discovered beaded tennis shoes in 1983; they were made by a Lakota lady, and I thought they were the coolest thing I had ever seen!
Has your father influenced you as an artist?
My father is an Italian American sculptor who still lives on the reservation. And I still have family in Italy, where I went, to meet my Italian relatives, near Lake Como. But I am Native. I was raised that way; I was 16 when my parents divorced, and, my mother being Native, I grew up on the Shoshone side of the reservation, with Shoshone people. Being half blood, I was an outsider. That is the line you have to walk, in two worlds.
Do you see any connection between your work and the Italian artistic tradition of beads, glass, mosaics, colors?
Well, my Italian family has been making mosaics, ceramics, and micro ceramics, for generations, and I work with glass, micro mosaics, beads. So yes, in a way, I continue that tradition.