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Ho-Chunk Beaded Reebok Baby Shoes

Reebok baby shoes beaded by Ho-Chunk
artist Linda Lucero, c. 1990.

(Museum object #1993.102A-B)

Ho-Chunk artist Linda Lucero of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, modified this pair of Reebok baby shoes by attaching glass beads. Linda is a Ho-Chunk beadworker using traditional beading techniques passed on through her family. She uses beading as a way to preserve her Ho-Chunk cultural heritage, to pass on to future generations.

Combining beading with contemporary clothing can be a way of asserting traditional cultural identity while wearing mainstream styles. The beading of athletic shoes became popular in the late 20th century and the style spread well beyond the Native American community. Linda has beaded shoes worn by celebrities such as Wayne Newton and Linda Gray.

Beading an already finished product, like these athletic shoes, is challenging because the artist needs to find areas to apply the beadwork. More commonly, such as in traditional moccasin construction, an appropriate raw material is chosen first and the beadwork applied to it before the finished product is assembled. The Reebok brand often worked well for Linda because it had areas of soft leather, making it easier to sew beads on to the completed shoes.

Glass beads were one of the first trade items brought to North America by Europeans, as early as the 16th century. Beads were an ideal trade item because they were compact and easily transportable, often being sold by weight or strung in bunches. While the first beads traded were large necklace-sized beads, soon small “pony” beads and even smaller “seed” beads became available. Very suitable for sewing, these smaller beads often replaced the flattened porcupine quills that decorated earlier Native American objects.

Glass beads are still commonly used to decorate Native American objects. Today’s beads are manufactured from opaque glass or translucent glass like that found in bottles. While all modern “seed” beads cost approximately the same, early beads were priced according to the expense of manufacturing them. Certain colors, such as reds, which required powdered gold to bring out rich pigments in the glass, were more expensive and consequently were used less often than inexpensive beads.

The selection of colors is very important in the creation of traditional beadwork. Every color is meant to integrate into the object while still standing out. Specific color combinations and decorative elements are sometimes indicative of tribal affiliation. Colors can be chosen by the artist to represent her clan group or they may be obtained through ceremonies or visions. However, all art is subjective and the colors and patterns used do not always have a greater meaning. Decorative elements are sometimes chosen because they are aesthetically pleasing, not for symbolism. Linda selected the colors for these Reeboks not based on any Ho-Chunk traditions but simply for their visual appearance.

[Sources: Monture, Joel. The Complete Guide to Traditional Native American Beadwork: A Definitive Study of Authentic Tools, Materials, Techniques, and Styles (New York: Collier Books, 1993); Beads: Their Use By Upper Great Lakes Indians (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Public Museum, 1977); Interview with Linda Hopinkah (formerly Linda Lucero), September 26, 2005.]

DZ


Posted on October 06, 2005

This article appears in the following categories:

  • Wisconsin Indians
  • Kids
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