Thursday, May 28, 2015

The BSM turns twenty!

By Maxine Verclyte, Communications Intern

                     The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come.

2015 marks the BSM’s twentieth anniversary year and I am very excited to be here in Canada from Belgium doing an internship at the museum while they celebrate. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to look back at the past 20 plus years of the BSM collection and see how far they have come!

The very first time visitors were able to see BSM Founder Sonja Bata’s shoe collection was in 1979, at the offices of Bata Limited, in the Don Mills area of Toronto where it was displayed for 6 years. Later, in June 1992, the exhibition opened on the second floor of the Colonnade, an office and retail complex in downtown Toronto where it remained until November 1994.

On May 6th, 1995, the Bata Shoe Museum opened its doors to welcome shoe lovers from all over the world. More than 13,000 shoes and artifacts from around the globe had finally found a permanent home. From that day on the BSM has continued to create themed exhibitions for their visitors to enjoy and learn from.

The themes vary from a specific time in history to examining different cultural groups of people in the world. All the themes were different but they all concerned the same topic - footwear.
A lot of exhibitions have come and gone here at the Bata Shoe Museum. Here is a look back at some of their most successful ones.

First off is the Spirit of Siberia exhibition that organized in 1995. It was a fascinating exhibition about the lives of Siberian people. They wanted to create an exhibit to share their stories with their visitors by showing how Siberian people dress and what kind of footwear they wear to withstand the extreme weather conditions.

The Perfect Pair: Wedding Shoe Stories opened in 2002 and featured traditional wedding footwear and rituals from around the world. In the exhibition, visitors could see wedding shoes such as the Japanese zori, the Indian paduka and many more which illustrated how many wedding rituals are performed to ensure that newlyweds step into the future on a sure footing.

In 2006 the BSM was proud to present The Charm of Rococo: Femininity and Footwear in the 18th Century. This exhibit showcased the opulence of the age of Louis XV. The quality of the artifacts showed the exquisite craftsmanship and eclectic imagination of the era of Rococo.

The following year a wonderful exhibition with seldom seen artifacts opened to the public. From Napoleon’s black silk socks to a Japanese samurai’s shoes of bear fur and silk were on display in Chronicles of RichesThe gallery was very colorful and dynamically designed which made the exhibition very enjoyable to visitors.

On a Pedestal: From Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels was a unique exhibition which made history! This exhibition brought together treasured pieces from the BSM’s collection and many other international museums.

The exhibition was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for shoe lovers to see extremely rare 16th and 17th century artifacts. On a Pedestal focused on two of the most extreme forms of footwear ever worn in Western fashion: the outrageous platform chopine and its more modern equivalent, the heel.

The 5000 square foot uppermost gallery made the visitor feel as though they were visiting both a Venetian home with an intimate loggia and an elegant Dutch house of the early 17th century.

Roger Vivier: Process to Perfection was an homage to the methodology of this masterful shoe designer. The exhibition opened its doors in 2012 and stayed open till April 7th, 2013.
Origin Studios created three different rooms to honour the designer. The first one was the Salon - an imitation of the boutique look and feel of Paris couture. The 'perfection' room displayed completed shoes and last but not the less important, was the 'process' room where visitors could catch a glimpse into the designer’s mind though his original drawings.

To wear dreams on one's feet is 
to begin to give 
reality to one's dreams 
- Roger Vivier

In 2013 the BSM opened a ground-breaking exhibition - Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture which will soon start travelling in the US beginning at the Brooklyn Museum in July.
The sneakers on view were chosen by designers such as Eric Avar, Mark Smith and the legendary Tinker Hatfield, the designer of the Air Trainer and Air Max 1 and almost every Air Jordan. Their work and their corresponding drawings could be seen in the exhibition and on the walls.
The design for this exhibition had a very new and modern look and was designed by renowned industrial designer Karim Rashid.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

20 Artifacts from the Bata Shoe Musuem that aren't shoes!

We'd like to introduce you to the Bata Shoe Museum's very own Listicle Series! In honour of our 20th anniversary this month, we will be posting a shoe-inspired top 20 list on the 20th of each month for the remainder of the year. Join us in celebrating this milestone by learning something new and unique about the BSM collection each month.

To begin our Listicle Series, we have put together the top 20 artifacts you would not expect to find in a shoe museum. The BSM's collection of 13,000 artefacts obviously contains a large number of shoes, however, we also collect, own and display various other items that may take you by surprise. 

1) Roger Vivier Sketches

The museum has 63 individual and original design sketches dated from 1949 to 1988 by French shoemaker and designer, Roger Vivier. 

2) Egyptian Gilt and Painted Cartonnage Ensemble
Egyptian mask, a pectoral and a foot covering. Ensemble is from the Roman Period, circa 1st century CE.

3) Chinese Painting on Paper
Chinese painting on paper of a woman sewing lotus shoes, late 19th century.

4) Swiss Silver Guild Cup
An inscription at the top of the cup indicates that it was a gift of the Zurich Shoemaker’s Guild to the Zurich Tanner’s Guild in 1590.

5) Soapstone Sculpture
Soapstone sculpture of an Inuit mother, with a child on her back, putting boots on another child. Handmade by Canadian Inuk artist Killy Peshuktu, 1993.

6) Saami Winter Parka
Collected by Drs. Jill Oakes and Rick Riewe during a Saami field trip between April-May1999 sponsored by the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation.


7) Marble Foot Sculpture 
Circa 200-300 BCE, this sculpture is from the Roman era and was found in France.

8) Samurai Doll
This carved and painted wooded doll is adorned with body armour holds a fan in his right hand and a sword in his left. His shoes are very similar to a pair in the BSM's collection.

9) Shoemaking Automaton Monkey
This monkey music box is from 1880 and made by famed French automaton maker, Jean-Marie Phalibois. 

10) Indian Anklets
Anklets are worn singly and in pairs. They are made as single or multiple-piece units, either solid or hollow. The simpleness of this design emphasizes the purity of the silver.

11) Stone Sculpture
This cream coloured sculpture features a woman's
stiletto-heeled shoe and a man's low-heeled oxford. Called A deux, it is one of an edition of 400, signed and numbered
by German sculptor, Paul Wunderlich, between 1973-1988. 

12) Elvis Presley's Shirt 
This casual short sleeved shirt belonged to Elvis Presley in the early 1970s and was purchased by the BSM (along with a pair of shoes) from Christie's auction house.


13) Beaver Fur Hat
The desire for beaver fur hats in European men’s fashions dates back centuries and spurred the development of the 17th century North American fur trade.

14) Louis Vuitton Trunk
This vintage Louis Vuitton shoe trunk was last on display in The Roaring Twenties: Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits.

15) Sled
This Alaskan Inupiat sled from 1900 is primarily made of baleen wood.

16) Model Canoe
This model of a birch bark canoe, accompanied with a wooden paddle, is from the early 19th century.


17) Stirrups
Pair of Chilean wooden pyramid-shaped stirrups with an embossed design of a female figure holding a staff.  


18) Pin Cushions
These miniature seal skin slippers used as pin cushions are from 1989 by Eskimoans from King Island, Alaska.


19) Sneaker-Shaped Coffin
This coffin from 2009 hails from Ghana. A tradition that seeks to celebrate the dead by displaying the source of their success in life is a practice common in Ghana dating back to the late 1950s.

20) Sewing Machine
Late 19th century black Singer sewing machine with ornate fret work on standards.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

In Conversation with our Conservator, Ada Hopkins

Ada Hopkins with a dress currently on exhibit at the BSM 
By: Jessica Pollock, Communications Intern

I recently sat down with Ada Hopkins, conservator at the Bata Shoe Museum, to learn more about her role at the museum and conservation at large. 

1. What initially led you to be interested in conservation?

I was always interested in art history and archaeology. When looking at different academic programs, I liked the marriage of history, technology and chemistry in the field of conservation. As such, I decided to go to Algonquin College in Ottawa, which used to have a great conservation program.

2. How long have you been working at BSM as a conservator?

I’ve been working at the museum for 27 years! I started when the collection was still stored at the Bata headquarters near the Ontario Science Centre (which is now where the Aga Khan Museum is).

3. What technical training is required to be a conservator?

One has to go to school to study conservation. Most programs have mandatory internships that have to be completed during the school year or after one’s coursework is completed.

4. How does your role intersect with curators’ work?

Curators choose the objects that will effectively tell a story. Once the objects are selected, we will review them together and discuss their condition, what needs conservation and which require special display mounts. We also estimate how long the overall process will take in order to determine a work schedule that ensures everything will be ready for the installation of the exhibition.

5. What are some of the practices you employ to conserve the shoes in the collection?

The treatment always depends on what materials each shoe is made of. I just finished working on a pair of hiking boots worn by Group of Seven painter – Lawren Harris – because they are going into an exhibition. There are tiny paint splatters on the leather from when he was sketching outdoors that should never be removed. It is important to take any markings into consideration that may be integral to the wearer. Another example is a pair of tennis shoes worn by professional tennis player, John McEnroe. He used to cut the side of his tennis shoes to relieve the pressure on his toes while he was playing. I would never repair the tears as they are part of the wearer’s story.

Lawren Harris' boots
John McEnroe's tennis shoes

6. Are there specific pieces of technology or instruments you need for your work?

You definitely need a microscope to examine artifacts up close to determine their condition and what materials they are made of. If there is detailed analysis needed, the museum has contacts that have access to scientific equipment necessary for further examination.

7. What is the primary challenge you face when trying to conserve new artifacts that come in?

Well, every shoe is different. Sometimes they have been worn and sometimes they have not. Sometimes they have been kept in terrible conditions, while others have been taken care of. I really look at each pair to establish what immediate treatment is needed, if at all.

8. Are there certain artifacts that come in that are in conditions beyond the help of conservation?

17th century Persian boot
Yes. We have a single Persian boot from the late 17th century, which is unique to our collection. The museum acquired it because of its rarity and then had testing done on the leather, only to find that it was quite degraded. It had been squashed flat in storage, and its condition makes it impossible to be returned to its original shape. Nevertheless, it is a fine research example. If we choose to put it on display, it will have to be kept in a special climate controlled showcase.

9. Are there any ethical issues that you face in your work?

When you are dealing with material culture from diverse cultures around the world, one really has to be respectful and cognizant of their origin and symbolism.

10. What is the oldest shoe in the collection and how do you go about making sure it stays in optimal condition?

The oldest pair of shoes in our collection is of Egyptian origin and roughly 4500 years old. We were fortunate that it came to the museum in excellent condition. However, we ensure that when they are on display, we control the temperature and light levels surrounding them. We are definitely extra careful around a pair of shoes thousands of years old and as rare as these ones.

4500 year old Egyptian sandals

11. Would you argue that conservation is more of an art or science? Both?

I think it is certainly both.

12. What is your favourite artifact in the collection?

I really love the story behind Mikhail Baryshnikov’s leather derby shoes. They were the pair that he wore the day he defected from Russia, while on tour in Toronto in 1974. I also admire a pair of Indian padukas because they are technically very interesting. When filled with rose water, an internal pump, activated by the heel button, sprayed water on the wearer's foot with each step.

  Mikhail Baryshnikov's shoes
Wooden paduka

13. Do you have any advice for aspiring conservators?

There are many conservation programs – several in Canada, many in Europe and a few in the United States. Some specialize in certain kinds of artifacts, so it is best to decide what you would like to specialize in – painting, modern materials, textiles etc. This will help you determine what program is best suited for your interests.

14. What is the number one reason why people should come visit the BSM?

People are very familiar with shoes, since we all wear them every day! However, the museum provides our visitors an interesting lens into material culture with which to access social history.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Beyond the Glass: Seeing, Touching, Smelling, and Hearing

By Fiona Kovacaj, Education Intern

Have you ever walked around a museum wondering what an artefact would feel like, or what it would smell like, or how it would sound? Sometimes seeing is not enough and for that reason, the Bata Shoe Museum has an extensive hands-on collection full of artefacts that engage all the senses - you can see them, touch them, smell them  and hear about them— everything but taste! How good would a wooden clog taste anyway?!

Every Saturday between 1:30 and 3:30 PM, you can join one of our knowledgeable docents for a hands-on presentation in the BSM's permanent gallery All About Shoes. There, you may be surprised to encounter a massive Timberland boot custom made for Shaquille O’Neal’s. The former NBA star wears a size 22 EEE (extra, extra, extra wide). Since most shoe companies don’t mass-manufacture a size this big, Shaquille O’Neil had to custom order his Timberlands. At this point, you may be wondering how much this shoe weighs or how big it looks next to a smaller size. This is where the hands-on component is useful because you can feel just how heavy it is and you can compare it next to your own shoe to really get a sense of the size. And, of course, you can take a picture with it to show your family and friends.

Because this collection is so diverse, you might also discover a pair of Dutch clogs next to the colossal Timberland. Clogs are a traditional form of footwear in the Netherlands. They are carved from wood, usually poplar, and can be painted or left undecorated. Decorations range from simple initials to more elaborate painted scenes, meant to personalize and diversify the shoes. This particular pair is painted red and in the middle, framed by yellow tulips. There is a windmill in a meadow with the word Holland painted just above, which identifies these clogs as a tourist item. It you get to do more than just look at these clogs!  By holding one in your hands you are able to discover that it is surprisingly light and that the inside is very smooth. When walked gently along the table, it also makes a clunking sound, perfect for clog dancing!

Another fascinating artefact in the hands-on collection is a pair of Athapaskan moccasins. These are decorated with moose hair tufting, a craft invented by M├ętis women in the early 20th century. Tufting is a very difficult skill to master. It requires you to make a small pompom out of the hairs from a moose, which is a lot harder than it sounds! By running your fingers along the tufting you can feel the roughness of the moose hairs. Smell is a very important part of observing the moccasin. The scent is often identified as smoky. It smells like this for a reason! One of the major steps in the process of crafting a moccasin is hanging the skin over a fire. This step ensures that the moccasin is more water-resistant because the smoke fills up all the little holes.

The opportunity to see and touch an artefact enriches your experience with it. By holding the Timberland, the clogs, and the moccasins in your hands, you are able to make your own discoveries about them. This tactile experience is further enriched by an explanation from a docent who can guide the way you look at an artefact and provide interesting information about its function and creation. I can also verify, from my own experiences with the hands-on collection, that it is also a fun way to learn about the history of shoes!