Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bata Industrials

For the last two months the world has watched the incredible story of  the trapped Chilean miners play out on television and the internet.  There was worldwide concern for the safety of these men and worldwide relief as their amazing rescue unfolded. This is one of those situations where everyone truly wishes they could do something to help.  One group who realized they actually could help was Research and Design team at Bata Industrials Latin America.  The story of what they created to help the miners is fascinating to the staff of the Bata Shoe Museum because of the way this organization was able to use their technical knowledge to create a product which could make an immediate change to the comfort and health of the trapped miners.

While the 33 miners remained trapped underground, one of the aims of the rescuers was to try and make the miner's situation as liveable as possible until a rescue could be achieved.  One of the many discomforts the miners suffered was that their feet had become cold and painful, and many were developing fungal infections as a result of the humidity.  The Research and Development team of Bata Industrials were determined to find a way to help ease this situation.  But because of the small diameter of the tube which was the only was to access the miners, fitting a shoe down intact was not possible.  The solution for the team at Bata Industrials was to create a shoe which could be sent down in sections and then easily reassembled by the miners.

The result was the creation of a shoe that was collapsible in order to be sent down the narrow tube. The boots featured hydrofugated leather with high water resistance and flexible rubber outsoles and  outer socks which were created using a breathable membrane   As quickly as possible, these elements were created, packaged and sent down the narrow tube to the miners where they were successfully reassembled and worn the by trapped miners.  A picture of part of one of the shoes even made the front page of the Toronto Star when it was sent back up by one of the miner's as a souvenir for his waiting wife!

The Bata Shoe Museum is proud to be able to display an example of these innovative boots.  These boots show how the ingenuity of this development team proved that there really is the right footwear for any situation!

Monday, October 25, 2010

St. Crispin's Day - The Patron Saint of Shoemakers

Today, October 25th, marks St. Crispin's Day, a day that traditionally has been celebrated as the feast day for the patron saints of shoemakers, Saint Crispin and his brother Saint Crispianus.

The story of these two brothers has become somewhat obscured by the passage of time, but legend has it that the two saints were sons of a 3rd century patrician Roman family who converted to Christianity. Disinherited because of their religious choice, they turned to shoemaking to make a living. In order to try to escape the persecution of Christians in Rome. the two brothers moved to Soisson, France where they began preaching and making shoes for the poor. Their charity and pious activities became well known and soon their activities were noticed by Roman authorities had them arrested.

According to legend, the brother's refusal to deny Christianity resulted in numerous tortures. First they were fitted with millstones around their necks and thrown in a river, but miraculously the stones fell away and they swam to safety. Next, they were thrown into a vat of boiling lead, but rather than being harmed, they splashed about like children in the molten metal splattering lead into the eyes of their tormentor, thereby blinding him. Various other tortures were visited upon them but each had no effect until they were finally beheaded on October 25th in the late 3rd century.

In the 6th century, a church was erected in their memory in Soissons. An alter also exists for them in the parish church of Faversham in Kent, England, where another version of the story suggests the brothers escaped and continued to preach and make shoes for the poor.

The brotherly equality, piety and earnest labour of Saints Crispin and Crispianus made them inspiring examples for many European shoemakers and eventually they became known as the patron saints of shoemakers.

One of the most famous moments which calls attention to St. Crispin's Day is the motivational speech from Shakespeare's " Henry V" where the King rallies his troops for the Battle of Agincourt which occurs on St. Crispin's Day.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Footprints of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 2

As well as artefacts from Napoleon and those connected to him, the Museum's collection also boasts personal effects from those who were fighting against him in the Napoleonic Wars.  Two of the United Kingdom's most important military heroes, Arhur Wellesley, Duke of Wellinton and his counterpart on the sea Admiral Horatio Nelson, victor of the Battle of Trafalgar are also represented in our collection.

It was at the Battle of Waterloo in present-day Belgium that Napoleon's tyranny was finally quashed.  The celebrated Duke of Wellington, later Prime Minister of England (1828-30), was known for being a driven leader, indifferent to comfort yet careful in his dress.  In 1815 he penned a short note to Mr. Hoby, his London bootmaker: "The last boots you sent were still too small in the calf of the leg and about an inch and a half too short in the leg.  Send me two pair more altered as I have above directed."  Now in the Museum's collection, this letter marks the point at which boots of this style became known as "Wellingtons", the Duke's unlikely legacy to modern footwear!

This pair of buckles belonged to Lord Nelson, commander at the Battle of Trafalgar, one of the most significant naval victories of the Napoleonic wars, and the battle which claimed Nelson's life.  His remarkable ability to motivate others was the "the Nelson touch" and he was well-respected by sailors and officers alike.

Stored in a smart leather case and finely engraved, Nelson's bejewlled buckles were a 45th birthday gift from the great English seaman, Lord St. Vincent.  They are inscribed "To Admiral Viscount Nelson from St. Vincent, 29 September, 1803."

In the same year, England declared war on France and Lord St. Vincent named Nelson Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean.  Later the ornate buckles came into the possession of the great beauty Lady Meux, who caused a stir in London but riding around in her carriage drawn by zebras!  In 1905, she presented the buckles to Lord Charles Beresford, a British Admiral and Member of Parliament.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Footprints of the Napoleonic Wars - Part 1

It would be difficult to overestimate the impact of the Napoleonic Wars (1804-15) on Europe - indeed on the world. The map of Europe was redrawn and the ideals of the French Revolution led to reforms in many countries. In this blog post and the next, we'll look at some artefacts from our collection which provide a glimpse into the real-life details of historical figures from this very important time.

Napoleon Bonaparte, whose large and charismatic personality inspired many, was both celebrated and feared for his brilliant military strategy. He became the most powerful man in France and instituted many social changes, including the Napoleonic Code, a significant factor in establishing the rule of law in may countries. After being defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, the "Emperor or France" ended his days in lonely exile on the British island of St. Helena. One of the Museum's most prized treasures is a pair of Napoleon's socks worn during that six-year period.
Napoleon's socks from his time in exile on St. Helena

Count Walewski's dress shoes reflect a popular fashion of the 1840's
Napoleon's great love for the Polish beauty Countess Marie Walewski was well known. He fondly labelled her his Polish wife and he fathered with her an illegitimate son, Count Alexandre Florian Joseph colonna-Walewski. The Museum has a pair of dress shoes which belonged to Count Walewski. As a publicist, actor, soldier, politician, government minister and ambassador, the Count would have worn shoes such as these on many formal occasions. Much like his father, he took pride in his appearance and in this instance, we see an attention to fashionable trends, evidenced by the silk openwork detailing of the vamp.

Count Colonna-Walewski married his first wife, Catherine Caroline Montagu, daughter of the Ear of Sandwich in 1831. Her elegant pink shoes are part of the Museum's collection and they embody the allure of a delicate countenance. Their rose hue and full bows hint at her fashionable style.

Pink silk shoes belonging to the Count Walewski's first wife, 1830

All images ©2010 Bata Shoe Museum