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Pawnshop moccasins lead Lakota woman down dream-filled path

ALBUQUERQUE, N. M. - In 1996, a chance encounter at a Mobridge pawnshop started Aberdeen, S.D., native Beverly Moran (Good Bear Heart Woman) on a journey she never could have envisioned.

All she saw that day was a pair of fully beaded moccasins she believed could start her on her lifelong dream of dancing in pow wows. At the time, she didn't realize that the $70 moccasins would one day bring her full circle in understanding her Lakota heritage and win her national acclaim as an artist. Eleven years later, the Standing Rock Sioux tribal member was one of six Indian artists in the country to be awarded a fellowship by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts.

The pawnshop moccasins soon became the foundation for Moran's first beaded Northern Traditional elk skin dress. Although she had hired someone to do the beading for the yoke of the dress, she soon found she needed to make a purse and other accessories to go along with it before she could dance in competition. Her daughter, Andrea (Morning Star), then 2, also wanted to dance and so Moran was soon busy beading hair ties and other accessories for the little girl.

After putting in a full day at the office as a government employee, Moran worked at night on various beading projects. It was slow going at first, since she was self-taught, but soon she began envisioning pieces that held on to their traditional roots and expanded them to incorporate her own personality. Now living in Albuquerque, the mother-daughter pair began winning at pow wows. Moran feverishly used every spare moment to create new and more stunning fan handles, hair ties, purses, belts and other items to keep up with her growing daughter's dance regalia and traveled on weekends to compete at pow wows.

When Andrea attended the Sun Dance at Green Grass, S.D., she was honored as the tree girl, wearing the now somewhat worn pawnshop moccasins.

''They called for her so quickly that I grabbed the first thing to put on her feet I could,'' Moran said. ''Wouldn't you know it was those Mobridge mocs!''

Watching her daughter over the years has been a large part of the inspiration for Moran's beadwork. As Andrea grew, her regalia became increasingly elaborate and kept her mother's fingers flying as she created new designs for her; but Moran's dancing was still being noticed more than her beadwork. She has performed at the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and at the Native American Music Awards.

By 2004, Moran was dancing less but beading more, and the result was her first competition with her beadwork at the New Mexico State Fair, which she won for the next two years. In 2006, people took serious notice of Moran's artistry with beads, and orders for various pieces began coming in so quickly that she had to give people time tables for when work on orders could be completed. Despite possible waiting periods of two years for some orders, people were more than willing to wait for her beautiful works of art. Some of the Moran collection has already been displayed and sold through Prairie's Edge in Rapid City, S.D.

With more than 30 years working for the government under her belt, Moran realized that the gift of her artistry would allow her to begin plans for retirement. Her husband, Byron Carr, helped her put together the paperwork to form her own company, and in 2006 Dancing Beads by Bear King LLC was born.

''I saw that I could do everything that I love after I retire,'' Moran said. ''I can be a vendor at pow wows and sell my own work and dance; something I never thought would be possible even a few years ago. Now with the SWAIA award, even more doors are being opened to me. This year my work will be featured at the Southwestern Indian Art Market in Santa Fe.''

Even the precious Mobridge pawnshop moccasins have now been given away, along with the elk skin dress they inspired, to a close friend of Moran's.

''I knew when I saw her wear that dress that she was meant to have it, so when Andrea was named Head Young Lady Dancer for the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow in 2004, I honored my friend at Andrea's giveaway with a gift of the mocs and the dress. She was like me and started dancing later in life and now she has retired the moccasins,'' Moran said smiling. ''They were special, they ended someone's dancing, started me on my journey, were on my daughter on the sacred ground at Green Grass and then went on to inspire my friend. I guess it was a pretty good $70 investment.''

With her old moccasins now proudly displayed at her friend's home, Moran's journey is continuing at an almost breakneck speed. She and her family recently moved into a larger home that includes a studio for Moran to work out of.

''It seems so funny, after all these years of learning my beading through the school of hard knocks, beading in my bedroom or any place that I could, to be able to say I have my own studio! Byron worked hard to put it together for me and it really is a dream come true.''

As Moran explained, ''My grandma, Clara Bear King Taylor, is where the Bear King came from in the name of my company. She and my parents were inspirations to me. They all lived in both the Indian world and in mainstream society and taught me how to do it. It is that mixture that shows up in my beadwork today. I try to take the traditional to the next level and make it into artwork that honors our heritage and shows how we as a people are continuing to move forward with a beauty that never forgets our traditional roots.''