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The Native American artist Charlene Holy Bear’s first foray into fashion came four years ago, when she made a last-minute decision to attend the annual Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, a pan-tribal festival also known as “North America’s largest powwow.”
“Everyone gets all dressed up in their traditional regalia,” says Holy Bear, a member of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux Tribe who is known for her intricate beadwork. “I hadn’t had any time to prepare outfits for us but I wanted my 4-year-old son Justus to look really cool. He had a new pair of slip-on Vans and I suddenly had an idea, looking at the checkerboard design.” Over the course of the three-day road trip to the festival, Holy Bear started hand-beading the kicks and the finished product—a classic skate shoe tricked out with vibrantly intricate traditional Lakota beadwork—now has a waiting list full of street style–obsessed collectors clamoring for a customized pair.
Born into a family of artists, Holy Bear first began hand-beading traditional Plains dolls when she was just five years old, learning from her sister Rhonda Holy Bear, an accomplished artist in her own right. A few years later, she entered a doll into a youth competition at the Santa Fe Indian Market and won her first award, a second-place ribbon. She used the prize money to buy her own horse. As a teen, she was picked up by the Morning Star Gallery in Santa Fe and used the sales of her dolls to put herself through the University of New Mexico, where she studied fine arts and art history. After graduating, Holy Bear spent years on the Native American arts fair circuit, traveling from California to Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Indiana just to sell her wares. “Social media all changed that,” she says. “I started posting photos on Instagram and people started to contact me looking to buy or have pieces made instead.”
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