Santa Fe’s beloved Jeri Ah-be-hill (Kiowa-Comanche) departed this life on March 11th, 2015. She had recently celebrated her 80th birthday.
Born in Apache, Oklahoma on September 23rd, 1934, Jeri was the daughter of Carrie Susie Ataumbi (Kiowa) and Earl Fuller (Comanche.) Her education at the Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Oklahoma introduced her to other students from many tribes and imbued her with an early awareness of, and deep pride in, the traditions of this country’s original peoples. Jeri carried this love and respect within her forever after and shared it abundantly with all who were privileged to know her.
In 1954, Jeri married the artist and sculptor Richard V. Greeves. The young couple moved to Fort Washakie, Wyoming, on the Wind River Indian Reservation (Shoshone-Arapaho), where Greeves set up his studio and Jeri opened a gallery, the Fort Washakie Trading Company. It soon became a superlative showcase for the exquisite bead art made by the Shoshone and Arapaho, as well as the arts of countless other tribes. With her bright energy and boundless enthusiasm, Jeri introduced generations of admiring collectors to the beauty of these arts, meanwhile becoming not only an advocate for the artists themselves but also a cultural ambassador between the Indian and non-Indian worlds. This was a role she would fulfill throughout her life.
Jeri and Richard Greeves raised their two daughters in Fort Washakie before separating in 1987. Shortly after Jeri moved to Santa Fe, in 1988, both daughters joined her; Teri Greeves and Keri Ataumbi have since become noted artists here. In addition to having had a space to sell and trade within Arrowsmith’s, Relics of the Old West she was a docent at almost every arts-and-cultural institution in Santa Fe—the Institute of American Indian Arts, the Wheelwright Museum, and the School of American Research among them—Jeri most memorably founded and served for seventeen years as Chair of the Native American Clothing Contest, a highlight of Indian Market weekend. This was one of her special gifts to the city she loved and to its thousands of visitors: the opportunity for young and old Native people to proudly share their finery and their traditions with the world.
Jeri is survived by her two daughters, Keri Ataumbi and Teri Greeves; their respective husbands, Joel Muller and Dennis Esquivel, and by two grandsons, Ahbedoh and Nimkees. Her sister Lorraine Rollette and family as well as her extended chosen family: Celia Kay Calloway, Ken Williams, Jacob Manitoba-Baily, John Running, Zedora Enos, Laurie Gunst and Curtis Black Owl.
There will be a public memorial service in the near future, time and place to be announced. There will also be a charitable organization suggested in lieu of flowers. For now and always, those of us who knew and loved Jeri will honor her in our hearts. She was a mother, teacher, a leader, a most generous person and a living treasure. Even as we mourn our loss, we celebrate the gift of her extraordinary life.