Maxine McBrinn, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture’s (MIAC) curator of archaeology, started with her research into ancient Native American footwear when she put together a museum exhibit that examines Native shoes from pre-historic times through the present.
“Stepping Out: 10,000 Years of Walking the West” is a fascinating exploration of how Native footwear began as simple coverings for the feet and evolved into elaborately decorated moccasins made out of materials including cowhide, porcupine quills, glass beads, horsehair, elk teeth, feathers and silver buttons.
“I love the stories behind the shoes,” explains McBrinn, who features sandals and moccasins from MIAC’s collection and items borrowed from local institutions and individuals in the exhibit.
“What surprised me is that I never saw indications of flat feet. With moccasins, you can see each toe, the imprint of the foot and the person’s arch.”
Footwear from the Southwest, Southern Plains, North Central Plains and Northwest Plains & Great Basin is included in the show. Most of the shoes have rawhide soles to protect the wearer’s feet from rocks, spines and thorns. Designs were simple until European beads were introduced into Native footwear in the late 15th century. Up until the turn of the 20th century, Native Americans living in the West made moccasins for family members, but those living in the East Coast began selling their footwear to colonists in the 1600s.
“The colonists found they liked moccasins better than their boots and often wore them,” says McBrinn. “Moccasins are designed for real feet. They’re more comfortable and fit better.”
The exhibit also features a selection of contemporary footwear by artists including Emil Her Many Horses (Oglala Lakota), Eva McAdams (Shoshone) and Teri Greeves (Kiowa). “Although my research has been into ancient footwear, I’ve discovered how much I enjoy the show’s contemporary art footwear,” McBrinn adds.
“Stepping Out: 10,000 Years of Walking the West” is on display through September 3, 2018.