Eva McAdams

Shoshone Regalia Maker
Woman with short dark hair wearing red dress waving to crowd.

Photo courtesy of artist

Bio

Eva Washakie McAdams was born in 1927 in Fort Washakie, Wyoming, on the Wind River Reservation, the great-granddaughter of the renowned nineteenth-century Shoshone leader Chief Washakie. As a child, she learned beadwork, an integral part of Shoshone life that is passed on through generations within families. "All of the women in the Washakie family are noted for their beadwork," she said. "I was taught at home by my mother. It's something that was handed down."

In time, McAdams was able to do exquisite beadwork and buckskin sewing. The teachings of her mother were augmented by her grandmother Mary Washakie and her aunt Virginia Norseep.

Using a palette of fine seed or cut ceramic beads applied either to Indian smoked and tanned buckskin or to commercially available white buckskin, she crafts a wide variety of items — ceremonial vests, pants, dance dresses, belts, purses, pendants, and other traditional wares. Among her most prized creations are moccasins, both lowtop and hightop, with elaborately decorated leggings. She applies the beads with either a "lazy" or an overlay stitch. Some of her beads are extremely small, only a little larger than a pinhead. She prefers ceramic beads, but also makes extensive use of cut-glass beads, many of which are imported from the Czech Republic.

Floral patterns — especially the rose, long preferred among her Eastern Shoshone people — and traditional geometric designs shape most of her work. Although Plains moccasin designs and customs are often gender-specific and vary from tribe to tribe, many of McAdams's popular designs are worn by both men and women.

Eva and her late husband, Alfred "Dutch" McAdams, operated a ranch near the Little Wind River in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains west of town. She raised six children and taught her daughter to sew and bead, but also continued to make ceremonial and dance regalia, which she often sold to other members of her tribe. As her reputation grew, so did the number of commissions she received. To supplement her regalia making and beadwork income, and to contribute to the betterment of her community, she has worked a number of jobs. For five years she managed the tribally owned Warm Valley Arts %26 Craft Store. Later, she started a small business supplying beads, buckskin, and other natural materials to other artists because she was dissatisfied with the quality of some commercially produced goods needed for traditional Shoshone crafts. In addition, she worked as a federal magistrate for the Law and Order Court System operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs on the Wind River Indian Reservation. She was a counselor to Indian inmates at the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins, and served as an election judge for Fremont County and as a researcher for Title IV projects on traditional foods and medicines.

Beadwork remains central to her life. While working in these various jobs, she continued producing Shoshone regalia and beaded garments. Although her designs are based on older traditions, she does not do historic reproductions. If she is asked to reproduce old designs, she makes them subtly different. She believes that the old designs should not be duplicated if they have lost their meanings and personal associations. Her designs incorporate traditional Plains Indian aesthetics while embracing personal and contemporary concerns.

Sewing buckskin is referred to as a survival technique among the Shoshone. Buckskin was traditionally the primary material available for garments, and skilled buckskin sewers were essential to the tribe's survival, especially during the long, cold Wyoming winters. Beaded clothing like that McAdams creates is now used mainly in Indian pageantry, but garments with minimal beadwork may be used for everyday wear.