Beaded Moccasins with Geometric Patterns

First Nations, North America, Plains Indians.
Late 19th/Early 20th Century.
Animal hide, beads.
Gift of Carolyn Crawford Thorsen and Duncan V. Crawford
Beadwork sewn onto animal hide is found in many of the more than 300 tribes of First Nations peoples. Before the European invasions, beadwork was accomplished with seeds, molded clay balls, carved animal teeth, claws, shells, and bird bones. Although Columbus gave beads as gifts, the first recorded glass beads were traded to the Mohawks in 1616. Small, fine beads came from Venice, Bohemia, and China, and revolutionized the First Nations' clothing decoration. 

Since the introduction of beads coincides with the widespread European interaction, First Nations beadwork creatively blends indigenous subjects and patterns with imported materials and imagery. Hide is certainly the traditional choice -- reflecting the close relation to animals and their sacred life force, as well as being practical, even for ritual footwear. Beadwork was sold to outsiders -- even shipped to Europe -- to help compensate for the loss of First Nations lands and dwindling income from agricultural production.