Footwear is evocative. The shoe tells us if the wearer was a child or an adult, and can often tell us whether they were an adult man or woman, based on size and style. Shoes retain signs of the wearer, showing imprints of toes and heels and repairs made as much-needed or much-loved footwear became ragged. They can also hint at health problems; for example, bunions and uneven gaits can be visible on the shoes.
How we protect out feet is influenced by the environment (hot, cold, stony, soft), the materials available (leather, plants, beads, quills), and tradition. Tradition guides whether people wear sandals or leather footwear, as well as how they decorate them, but tradition varies over time as conditions, environmental and social, change.
The style of the shoe also tells us about belonging, love, and social aspiration. Beaded moccasins are time-consuming to make, comfortable to wear, and beautiful to behold. Moccasins created for a family member will often reflect the love and commitment of the maker toward the wearer. Some styles of moccasins or sandals were reserved for those with status, wealth, or a special role in society. Footwear reflects the lives of their makers and wearers, offering a window into the past and the present.
This exhibition will feature sandals that date back thousands of years found in the dry caves of New Mexico and nearby regions. The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture has amassed a significant collection of Plains and Southwest moccasins, many beautifully beaded or quilled, and these will be exhibited for the first time in decades. The exhibition will conclude with examples of contemporary high fashion footwear made artists like Teri Greeves, Lisa Telford, and Emil Her Many Horses, showing how traditional designs and techniques are now being used to create gorgeous, meaningful shoes in the 21st Century.
Stepping Out: 10,000 Years of Walking the West opens at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on August 27, 2017 and will be on exhibit until September 3, 2018.
Curator’s Statement by Maxine McBrinn, PhD.