Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Conservator's Blog - Czech Dance Boots

Contributed by Bata Shoe Museum Conservator Ada Hopkins

In April I went to the Czech Republic to install an exhibition for the Bata Shoe Museum at the Egon Achiele Art Centrum in Český Krumlov. The first two days I spent in the industrial city of Zlin where the Bata Shoe Company was started in 1894. One of these days was spent in the company of the Director of the city-run Shoe Museum.

My host took me on a tour of her museum; then we drove to meet with a shoemaker in a very small town northeast of Zlin called Kelc. The shoemaker learned his craft as a teenager and had been making traditional Bohemian, Moravian, Slovakian and other regional special occasion boots and shoes for local folklric dance troupes for more than 50 years. His shop was filled with all kinds of machinery and the walls were covered with a multitude of paper pattern pieces.

The shoemaker's shop interior

One style of women's boots involves accordion pleating of the boot shaft, made from an extended length of leather. The Bata Shoe Museum has several pairs in its collection and the method of achieving this effect has always been a mystery.

Boots before pleating
The vamp of the boot is hand embroidered, the components are sewn together and then the upper is lasted to the sole; the final stage is pleating the leather. The leather of the boot shaft, which can measure up to 80cm, is wetted thoroughly along with an application of a water soluble adhesive (or size). The carved, deeply notched wooden last is pushed into the boot until it rests on the insole. The wet leather is pulled down over the form, wedging the excess into the recesses of the last until the entire length has been creased in place.
A historical last from the Shoe Museum, Zlin

The boots are left until the leather is completely dry. When the last is pulled out of the boot, the shaft retains its permanent accordion pleating with the finished height measuring around 52cm. Brass nails are hammered into the heel in a decorative pattern. These beautifully embellished boots complement an even more elaborate outfit that is decorated with fabulous embroidery, multiple colourful ribbons and layers of starched lace.

Finished boots - from the Bata Shoe Museum's collection

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Interning at the Bata Shoe Museum

By Kelly Smith

On May 2nd I began a four month internship at the Bata Shoe Museum.  This internship marks the completion of the Museum Management and Curatorship program at Flemming Collage which includes two semesters of classes with a third and final semester of hands-on training.  My week began by becoming familiar with the collection.  Within the first two days I had explored South Storage, where the Western Fashion and the Ethnographic collections are kept.  I was immediately drawn to the medieval shoes where the leather is worn, dark brown or black.  In addition to these, I have always been fascinated by historical movies and their costumes, which led me to the 18th century footwear, which are full of brocade and ribbons.

18th century brocade shoes.  Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

I enjoyed having the opportunity to examine the shoes for the simple reason that they are such a personal artifact.  They tell us so much about the wearer and the social context from which they come.  The shoes inform us about what was important to the wearer.  For example, they may have wanted to have the most eye-catching shoes at a ball, or keep their feet warm and dry during rainy season.  When my time of discovery in storage was complete I had only made it half way through the room!

On my second day at the Museum we took the ever popular Justin Bieber's shoes to Sick Kids Hospital, where they were put out on display during a rock star party.  Kids had the opportunity to come down to the atrium with their parents to enjoy music, arts and crafts and, most importantly, to get their picture taken with a teen dream's shoes!  The kids went wild for them!  Boys grinned behind the sneakers, while girls struck their best diva pose for the opportunity to have their picture taken with the 'Bieb's shoes!

Some young fans of the 'Biebs' pose with his shoes at SickKids

I have been lucky to take part in many field trips so far in my first three weeks at the Museum.  Besides Sick Kids, I also went on a trip to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg where two pairs of shoes which belonged to Marilyn Monroe and are now part of the BSM collection were on display as part of the McMichael's fabulous Marilyn Monroe exhibition.

Marilyn Monroe's shoes at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.  Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum

One of the projects I will be undertaking during my time at the Bata Shoe Museum will be to curate a small exhibition on the B1 level of the Museum.  I'm excited to learn more about the collection and pick a topic which will be educational and informative.  I hope that it will be ready to install by August 2nd.  I am feeling confident that I have found the perfect topic for my exhibit, but I don't think I'm ready to give away that secret just yet!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Conservation Blog - Jazz Age Dress

By Conservator Ada Hopkins

Sometimes there isn't enough time to perform a compete treatment on an object and the resulting work I refer to fondly as 'guerilla conservation'.  It is done quickly, with minimal materials, but conservation intervention is adequate for the purpose; in this case displaying a dress on a mannequin.

For the Roaring Twenties exhibition the Museum borrowed two dresses from a private collector; one is decorated with sequins and beads; the other is cut-velvet.  As is usually the case with beaded dresses from this era, the weight of the decorative elements impact negatively on the extremely fine silk to which they are sewn.  This in combination with the stress of wear and 70+ years of dubious storage can cause the fabric to tear, primarily around the neckline and armholes.
Dress armhole - before
Interior view of silk crepeline

Dress armhole - after

The objective of the treatment was to support the tears and dangling beads and sequins to mitigate existing damage and prevent future deterioration.

Normally if there was more time I would have dyed the silk selected to back the tears a compatible colour, however, since it would not visible it ultimately did not matter.  Silk crepeline, a very fine and lightweight, was hand stitched to the back of the tears with silk thread sewn in a grid-like pattern to distribute the weight of the beads and sequins.  Seam binding was stitched to the shoulder seams to reinforce these weak areas.

The next step was mounting the dress onto the mannequin.  This is an art in itself.  One has to be familiar with the undergarments of the period so the dress will 'hang' in the appropriate manner.  I searched the library and online resources to find an image as a reference.  This resulted in two patterns manufactured for the home seamstress which are essentially rectangles with straps.  Very easy to duplicate!  A slip was made for each dress from a plain silk weave.
Mannequins in their slips

Mannequins having hair appli
Once the hair and shoes had been applied to the mannquins, they were installed inside the casework.  Then they were ready to be clothed: first the slip, then the dress and finally the arms. Et voila - two 'flappers' ready for a night on the town!
Dressed mannequins in the Roaring20s gallery

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Roaring Twenties Opening - by Guest blogger Florence McCambridge

The Roaring Twenties: Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits

After the initial excitement of being invited to the Bata Shoe Museum for the launch of the new Roaring Twenties exhibition wore off, the fear set in: I had no idea what to wear.  I went through my closet and quickly discovered that I didn't own much of anything inspired by the twenties.  Still, I did the best that I could with what I had and made my way to the event this past Tuesday night.

As I walked through the main entrance of the shoebox-shaped building, I was immediately greeted with the music of Liberty Silver and the Jazz Kats, which set the perfect tone for the evening.  I sipped on a sweet sugar-rimmed Parisian Sidecar cocktail and moved through the crowd made up of mostly women dressed in their best flapper looks.  There were glittering headbands, endless strands of pearls, and of course, sparkling shoes to finish the whole look off.

Parisian Sidecars were the featured cockta
Liberty Silver and the Jazz Kats

After nibbling on some delicious hors d'oeuvres and listening to the introductions of the night, a couple of Charleston dancers led the way up the stairs to the exhibition, and I followed closely behind them.

In her introduction, Sonja Bata said that the Bata Shoe Museum used shoes to tell you about another time period, and this was definitely true of "The Roaring Twenties: Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits".

Spectator Shoes - Hellstern and Sons, French late 1920s
I went in not knowing much about the 20s other than what I'd read in the The Great Gatsby and various Coco Chanel biographies, and I would have never imagined that I would have anything in common with the women of that time.  But as I glanced down at a pair of menswear inspired shoes that looked eerily like a pair that I currently own, I realized that we were more alike than I thought.

 The exhibition allows you to get up close to the glittering heels and the floral and textured fabrics of the shoes.  You learn all about the footwear designer Andre Perugia and about why T-strap shoes were invented (hint: it has to do with dancing the Charleston!).  And most importantly, you get to see what life was like for the women of  the 1920s  in the most entertaining way possible,which is through their shoes of course!

Shoes and shoebox by Andre Perguia, French, 1920s
And it doesn't have to end when you leave the exhibition.  The Bata Shoe Museum also has a lecture and movie series to let you get even deeper into the Roaring Twenties.  You can take in an illustrated talk by any of the scheduled speakers, or you can watch a movie set in the 1920s, such as La Vie En Rose, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, and Some Like It Hot.

On my way home I remembered something that Liberty Silver said in between songs.  She was talking about the twenties and asked the audience "Can you imagine yourself back then?" Originally my answer was no, but after taking in the exhibition I think that I can.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Roaring Twenties Opening - by Guest blogger Caitlin Dyer

Roaring Twenties Exhibit Opening is the Bees Knees!

On Tuesday, April 12th, 2001, the Bata Shoe Museum kicked off their new exhibit on the Roaring Twenties with a bang!  The glitz and glamour of the 1920's was taken to heart both by staff and guests, who turned up in their best Jazz Age outfits.  Sidecars, a cocktail which originated in the 1920's, were on offer alongside fabulous appetizers provided by Encore Catering.  Guests were serenaded by the sultry sounds of JUNO Award winning artist Liberty Silver and the Jazz Kats while costumed dancers demonstrated the Charleston.  If that wasn't enough to keep you entertained, silent films from the 1920's were projected on the wall.

To offcially kick off the evening we heard from the MC Jaymz Bee, Fashion Magazine editor Bernadette Mora, Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack and the Museum's founder Mrs. Sonja Bata.  You see Mrs. Bata's remarks here.  We were then 'danced' up the stairs to the exhibit.

The exhibit itself was the best part of the evening for me.  As a lover of shoes and a public historian there is nothing I like better than history presented through shoes!  The exhibit chronicles the rise of the flapper and the greater freedoms that women enjoyed during the 20's as exemplified through spectator sport, bathing and dancing shoes.  Visitors are able to compare the fashion of the 20's to conservative boots from the preceding decade and the escapist metallic leather shoes of the Depression years.  This elegant travelling wardrobe full of shoes in like art for the shoe lover and my favourite part of the exhibit, second only to these sparkly t-strap pumps.

Perugia shoe box and shoes
Louis Vuitton shoe trunk

Overall, the evening was a roaring success.  The projections, music, dancing and themed drinks set the mood and the exhibit itself was the icing on the cake.  Or should I say the bees knees?!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cinderella - The Glass Slipper Debate!

One of the last things you see before you leave the Bata Shoe Museum is a comment and suggestion box where we encourage people to share their thoughts on the things they've seen during their visit. One comment which we see on a regular basis relates to an area in our All About Shoes exhibition dedicated to one of the most famous shoe stories of all time - Cinderella. There is a debate surrounding this fairy tale that many people ask about. While there are many versions of Cinderella that differ through time and culture, the one most familiar to Western culture was written by Charles Perrault in 1697. Some think that the Perrault version of the fairy tale suffered a mistranslation and Cinderella's famous glass slipper was actually a fur shoe in the original telling of the story. This is a question that is also a source of much conversation on the internet, so we thought we'd ask Bata Shoe Museum Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack to weigh in on the debate.

"Some suggested that Perrault's Cinderella wore a fur shoe rather than a glass one, arguing that the French term verre (glass) was a mistranslation of the term vair (fur) and noting that fur slippers were highly valued in the past. But all aspects of dress in Perrault's story were pointedly contemporary, and fur slippers were not in fashion at the end of the 16th century. Furthermore, when the slipper is place on Cinderella's foot, it is proclaimed to fit as though it were made of wax - meaning it was absolutely form fitting. The rigidity and individual fit achievable through a bespoke (as it were) glass slipper moulded exactly to Cinderella's foot would have confirmed her identity. A fur slipper would have had "give" and would have fit any number of people."

Whatever you think of Cinderella's choice of footwear, because this fairy tale has a shoe as one of it's stars, it is always a topic of interest to Museum visitors. We are happy to be able to show visitors that this version that we know and love is just one of the many cultural variations of this story that has delighted children all over the world. Next time you visit "All About Shoes" make sure you take a minture to learn about Korean Cinderella, Dutch Cinderella and Egyptian Cinderella!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Conservation Blog - Perugia Shoe Box

We're very excited to introduce a new blog feature that will be appearing on a regular basis, the Conservation Blog.  The Bata Shoe Museum's Conservator, Ada Hopkins, will be giving readers an insider's look into what's involved in conserving the artefacts which pass through her hands.  At the Bata Shoe Museum it is our practice to conserve rather than restore. We believe that worn footwear has more significant cultural meaning than unused pristine shoes. Signs of wear such as stretched leather, dirt on soles, even alternations and modifications, are evidence that these are real shoes worn by real people.

Conservation Blog 1 - Perugia Shoe Box
*We've had some  feedback inquiries about this shoebox - please see the end of the blog entry for extra information on shoeboxes in the BSM collection

In preparation for each new exhibition, in this instance the upcoming Roaring 20s, all the shoes that will tell the story are selected by the Curator.  Then the Conservator, that's me, looks at every artifact to determine its condition for display.  The items that require treatment are set aside to be worked on before the installation date.

For this exhibition there were several pairs of shoes that needed minor intervention such as securing loose beads, tacking down loose ends of decorative embroidery threads and finding replacements for missing buttons.  The artifact that required the most attention was a beautiful shoe box from Perugia who was a famous Paris-based designer.
Perugia shoe box, 1921-29

It's your standard shoe box with a base and a lid however the paper that covers it is stunningly embossed with a fern-like motif worked on a purply-black paper.  The interior is divided into two compartments and is completely covered with a mottled muted khaki green paper.

Inside of shoe box shows two comapartments - one for each shoe

The exterior corners of the base are scuffed but overall this component is in very good condition.  The box lid is a different matter: the cardboard and both papers are torn on three of the four corners.  In order to make this displayable these corners need to reinforced plus it gives the viewer a better sense of how the box presented itself originally.

Torn and twisted paper elements were humidified so that they could be realigned.  Then they were reattached to the box with wheat starch paste.  Little weights, as well as small sections of acid free blotting paper to absorb excess moisture, were place on top of these spots until the adhesive dried. 

*When this shoebox was purchased, it did have a pair of Perugia shoes inside.  However they were not the shoes that were described on the label glued to the end of the shoe box (the label reads "Satin noir pierreries" - Black Satin Rhinstone).  At some point in their lives these items had been erroneously paired.  That said - it's a really fabulous shoe box that stands on its own as an artifact and the museum does have other boxes in the collection that do not have shoes. For instance, there is one from Bally that dates to the 1930's, a box from Herbert Levine from the mid 1970s and an early Eaton's shoe box mismatched with a pair of men's shoes.  The earliest date for a matching set includes  a pair of white satin button boots worn by a bride at her wedding in 1874.  Another example includes four pairs of black satin button boots from 1875 that originated in Paris but were acquired from an estate in Chile.

These are the shoes that were purchased by the Museum with the Perugia box, but they are NOT the shoes that were originally sold in this box.
Perugia shoes, 1924-26 which were purchased by the Museum in a mismatched  Perugia box