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


  1. How interesting to be able to see inside the box with its compartments.

    I love the new conservation blog idea.

  2. As a collector- boxes are very rare item onto itself. Perugia are very rare and collectable. Thanks for the story

  3. Amazing post! regarding shoes that are now to be placed in museums. i love your blog even though this is the first time i'm seeing this. just wanted to tell you you're amazing.