Monday, October 24, 2016

The Arctic Landscape - Sápmi

The Sami are an indigenous peoples of northern Europe whose traditional homeland, known as Sápmi, includes parts of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia. In 1999, on behalf of the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation, researchers Jill Oakes and Rick Riewe travelled to these regions in order to collect Sami footwear, as well as learn about bootmaking technology. During their field research, they worked alongside bootmakers to learn about the diversity of traditional footwear from across Sápmi. In doing so, they acquired about 170 artifacts for the museum. Several special highlight pieces from this collection are currently on view in our exhibition Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection.

Tall, waterproof boots worn by Mettans Persson. Purnu, Sweden. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Traditional Sami footwear was often made of reindeer skins and colorful textiles, producing distinctive boots that were both fashionable and warm. The incorporation of textiles into clothing and footwear production has quite a long history in Sami culture due to their close proximity with other European communities. Though textiles originated south of the Arctic Circle, Sami seamstresses creatively adapted these materials into their crafts, creating unique and distinctively Sami clothing and footwear. Textiles most often appeared on boots through the woven ties that helped to bind the boot shaft to the leg. These ties were often intricately designed, and could feature either geometric or curvilinear motifs. These colorful straps could provide a great deal of information about the wearer, including their regional identity, gender, as well as marital and social status.

White reindeer-skin boots with colorful, woven ties. Aiddejavre, Norway. Collection of the Bata Shoe Museum © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

A distinctive feature of many Sami boots is their upturned toes. It has been suggested that this toe helped to ‘kick-off’ snow when walking in the wintery climate. In addition, it has been said that the curled toes were helpful in affixing boots to skis, as they could be slipped under lashings to ensure a secure fit. Travelling across ice and snow presented many challenges, and many features of Sami boot design respond to the often harsh arctic environment.

Dark reindeer-skin boots with textile cuff. Vuotso, Finland © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Boot soles were another feature of footwear that demonstrated the technological innovation of bootmakers in response to the environment. Many boot soles were made of two or more pieces of reindeer skin that were sewn with the nap of the fur facing in different directions, providing much needed traction for winter wear. For wear in wet conditions, including the summer and along the coasts, boots were made of dehaired reindeer skin that was smoked and tanned for water repellency.

Ellen Marit Eria Solbakke making boots. Kautokeino. Photo by Jill Oakes © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Over the course of the 20th century, many Sami communities united to create strong local and transnational organizations to push for greater political and socioeconomic opportunities. Sami traditional dress, including reindeer skin boots, was used to help proclaim cultural identity. Many contemporary Sami wear their national dress, called Gakti, during special occasions and holidays to celebrate their cultural heritage.

Jill Oakes learning to make boot ties. Jokkmokk, Sweden. Photo by Rick Riewe © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Arctic Landscape - Siberia

For centuries, Siberia has been the traditional home to numerous indigenous groups including the Nenets, Evens, Evenki, and Chukchi. In many of these communities, reindeer husbandry was historically an important economic and cultural practice. In addition to their valuable meat, reindeer provide warm furs which are crucial in an environment where temperatures can drop as low as – 50 degrees Celsius. The Siberian boots featured in our exhibit, Art and Innovation: Arctic Footwear form the Bata Shoe Museum Collection, are all made from reindeer fur, and feature a wide variety of cuts, colors and styles, illustrating the creativity and cultural diversity of this region.

This pair of Khanty boots features felted strips sewn into the seam, as well as wool pompoms just below the knee. Image © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (Photo: Ron Wood)

Reindeer skins were often harvested in the late summer or the early fall, just as their coats started to thicken. In the spring, these coats were quite thin and filled with holes made by flies whereas in the winter, they were too thick and bulky to be of use when sewing clothing.

After they were harvested, these skins were mechanically and chemically treated before sewing. This process made the skins soft and flexible, impermeable to water, and resistant to decomposition. Though the method with which these reindeer skins were prepared could vary greatly between different communities throughout Siberia, the general process shared similar steps. Using a variety of different techniques and tools, these skins were repeatedly dried, scraped and softened until ready.

This pair of Evens boots feature colorful beaded cuffs. Image © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (Photo: Ron Wood)
Assorted types of reindeer skins were useful for making different types of boots, or different parts of the same boot. For example, thinner reindeer skins were ideal to create inner boots that could be layered. In addition, the leg skins of reindeer were often used to create tall boots, as they were the ideal shape to create the center front and back panels of boot shafts. Often, the skins found between the toes of a reindeer were innovatively used to create boot soles. These thick and coarse hairs splayed out in different directions, creating lots of traction, and ensuring the wearer wouldn’t slip.

These Chukchi boots feature thick, furry soles made of reindeer toe-skins. Image © 2016 Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada (Photo: Ron Wood)
Most reindeer-skin boots, particularly those reserved for special occasions, featured some form of decoration. These designs were an important form of visual communication. The use and placement of certain patterns and materials could reveal a great deal of information about the boot maker or wearer, including their gender, marital status, regional or local identity as well as personal tastes. In addition, certain patterns and embellishments could function as spiritual markers, and convey information about different belief systems. Common forms of embellishment include beaded panels, strips of different textiles, hair and skin embroidery, and decorations made out of contrasting pieces of light and dark reindeer skin.

Though reindeer skins were used for bootmaking across Siberia, there is tremendous diversity in the cuts, colors, shapes, sewing styles, decorative techniques, and fashions in footwear from this region. This is not only true within Siberia, but throughout the arctic region.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Arctic Landscape - Canada

Bird skins from a variety of different species were used throughout the circumpolar region to create parkas, slippers, hats and bags. Though they are not very strong and resistant to wear, bird skins are light, warm and naturally waterproof. Historically, the Canadian Inuit, particularly those from the Belcher Islands, used skins from the eider duck to create cozy and comfortable clothing and footwear. This cozy pair of slippers comes from Sanikiluaq. Made of soft eider duck skins, this pair is one of several amazing Inuit artifacts featured in our exhibit, Art and Innovation: Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection
This pair of eider duck slippers is warm and super lightweight. (Photo: Suzanne Petersen © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
It has been suggested that the use of eider duck skins on the Belcher Islands dates to the late nineteenth century. During this time, there was a series of particularly severe winter storms which covered lichens with a layer of ice. Unable to break through this icy layer, the caribou starved which left the Inuit with no fur to make their clothing. Inuit seamstresses ingeniously turned to eider ducks and began using their skins as an alternative.  
This stocking and slipper are made from eider duck skins. (Photo: Suzanne Petersen © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Underneath their contour feathers, eider ducks have a soft and fluffy layer of down. Though this down provides insulation, it is also quite thick and makes bird skin clothing bulky. The strongest and warmest bird skins are often the least flexible, so different parts of the bird, and sometimes several different species altogether, are combined to make a garment.
Minah Mannuk tries on an eider overboot made by Silatik Meeko. Sanikiluaq, Belcher Islands, 1989.  (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Adult male eiders have the toughest and thickest skins, so they were often used for hunter’s clothing. These skins could also be used on women’s coats across the upper chest and the back, as these parts of a parka experience lots of wear and tear, and need to be made of strong skins. Female eider skins were used for hoods, sleeve cuffs, and the underarm section of men’s and women’s clothing, because their suppleness allows for freedom of movement. Skins from juvenile birds are sometimes reserved for children’s clothing, because they were soft and flexible. The wing pockets of an eider have no quilled feathers, and are only made of soft down, so these pieces were usually kept aside to patch holes in other garments.

Sam Willie and Minah Iqacuk wearing eider skin parkas. Sanikiluaq, Belcher Islands, 1989.  (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Adult eiders were also used to create incredibly light and soft slippers as one eider was the perfect size for each foot. Warm and cozy stockings were also created which could be layered with boots of other material for extra warmth. Different types of eider ducks, and different parts of the each skin, offer their own unique material advantages. These skins are strategically used by the Inuit when creating clothing and footwear.

Recently, the eider down industry in Sanikiluaq, Belcher Islands has seen a revival. This Inuit community produces eider down commercially, as it continues to be used to create warm winter clothing across the country.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Arctic Landscape - Alaska

Figure 1 King Salmon Skin Boots, 1992. Bethel, Alaska. (Photo: Ron Wood © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
University of Manitoba researchers Rick Riewe and Jill Oakes first travelled to Alaska in the summer of 1989 on behalf of the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation. Visiting over fifteen different communities, they learned about hunting, fishing, skin preparation and bootmaking. Rick and Jill also developed important relationships with several seamstresses who contributed artifacts to the museum’s permanent collection. One such seamstress, Eliza Chase, created a pair of salmon-skin boots featured in our exhibit, Art and Innovation.

Figure 2 Eliza Chase Preparing Fish. Bethel, Alaska, 1990. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Through their archival research, Rick and Jill had learned about waterproof salmon skin boots, and they were eager to collect a pair for the museum. With its long coasts, as well as numerous lakes, marshes and islands, Alaska can have a very wet environmental landscape, particularly in the spring. For centuries, Inupiat and Yup’ik seamstresses resourcefully used natural materials such as fish skins to create warm and waterproof boots. By the end of the 20th century, fish skin boots had become increasingly rare in Alaska, as rubber gradually became more popular. Nevertheless, Rick and Jill remained determined to find a seamstress who still made these boots.

Figure 3 Kuskokwim River, Alaska. 1990. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
During their time in Alaska, Rick and Jill learned about a seamstress named Eliza Chase who lived at a fishing camp near the Kuskokwim River. They met with Eliza who promised that she would make salmon skin boots for the museum and mail them to Rick and Jill once they returned to Canada. Several months after returning to Manitoba, Rick and Jill still hadn’t heard from Eliza, and they figured that she may have forgotten about their request. Over two years later, they received a box in the mail containing three pairs of fish-skin boots along with a note. It turned out that Eliza had accidentally misplaced Rick and Jill’s business card, but once she found it, she made the boots and sent them right over!

Figure 4 Eliza Chase. Bethel, Alaska, 1990. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
The boots on display are made of king salmon skin and feature hard sealskin soles. Using a watertight stitch, patches of light salmon skin were carefully sewn onto the shaft in order to stitch-up the dorsal fin holes. The scales are still intact and add dimension, color and texture to the boots. This pair is completely unlined, but the shafts are topped off with textile cuffs and a drawstring. These boots are incredibly lightweight, and seem a bit fragile to the touch. However, pairs such as these often became much stronger and flexible once they became wet. In colder weather, boots such as these were worn with grass or textile liners.

Figure 5 King Salmon Skin Boots, 1992. Bethel, Alaska. ( Photo © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
This pair of boots is an important part of our collection because it provides evidence of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of seamstresses in Alaska who created waterproof footwear using a variety of locally-available materials. In addition, it demonstrates the close relationships that Rick and Jill made with local seamstresses during their field research. The Bata Shoe Museum’s circumpolar collection would not have existed without the kindness, generosity and expertise of the makers who donated their footwear.  

Figure 6 King Salmon Skin Boots, 1992. Bethel, Alaska. (Photo © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)

Listen to an audio recording of how we collected these boots and more by clicking here.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Arctic Landscape - Greenland

Greenland is the world’s largest island. For most of the year, it is blanketed by ice, but its coasts are inhabited by numerous communities who have thrived in this arctic environment for generations. Though it is a North American landmass, Greenland has been culturally and politically connected to Europe since the 10th century. Over the past thousand years, Greenland has been settled by different groups of Inuit and Nordic peoples. After centuries of Danish colonization, Greenland became an autonomous country in the Kingdom of Denmark in 2009. Traditional Greenlandic dress reflects this long and culturally complex history, and often displays a mixture of Inuit and European influences and materials. 

Sakarine Steeholdt wearing the Greenlandic national costume that she made. Nuuk, Greenland. August, 1988. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Sakarine Steeholdt wearing the Greenlandic national costume that she made. Nuuk, Greenland. August, 1988. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Characterized by bright colors and elaborate embellishments, Greenlandic clothing can reveal a wealth of personal information about the wearer, including their gender, occupation, marital status, as well as which community they are from. Over the course of the 20th century, traditional Greenlandic clothing also became an important part of a larger discussion concerning national identity. As Greenlanders pushed for greater social and political autonomy, a colorful and recognizable national costume was gradually developed. Today, many Greenlanders wear their national dress during special occasions, to celebrate holidays and mark important rites of passage. A complete national costume, including several pairs of highly embellished boots, are currently on display in our latest exhibit Art and Innovation: Traditional ArcticFootwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection.  

Many of the Greenlandic artifacts featured in our exhibit were obtained by University of Manitoba researchers Dr. Rick Riewe and Dr. Jill Oakes. In 1988 and 1989, they travelled to Greenland on behalf of the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation not only to collect artifacts, but also to learn about traditional bootmaking techniques directly from those who made and wore these pieces. Their field trips along the northern and western coasts of Greenland yielded a wealth of information about hunting, skin preparation, sewing, as well as boot and clothing construction in these different communities.
White sealskin boots made by Sakarine Steenholdt. Nuuk, Greenland. c. 1970. (Photo: Suzanne Petersen © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)

One of the most interesting Greenlandic artifacts featured in this exhibit is a pair of tall white sealskin boots (right), or kamiit, which Rick and Jill collected while they were in Nuuk. Each boot is composed of two pieces; the short outer boot is made of bleached, dehaired sealskin, while the tall inner boot is adorned with red textile, silk-thread needlework, and a black sealskin cuff. The shaft of the inner boot features floral embroidery and lace decoration which shows European influence, while the horizontal band of seal-skin embroidery, known as avittat, reflects Inuit heritage. Sealskin is a material which has natural water-repellent abilities and it has been used innovatively in Greenlandic bootmaking for centuries. This particular pair of boots was made by Sakarine Steenholdt in the 1970s, which she wore as part of her national costume during special events and religious holidays.

Red sealskin boots. Disco Island, West Greenland. c. 1955. (Photo: Ron Wood © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Red sealskin boots. Disco Island, West Greenland. c. 1955. (Photo: Ron Wood © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Another highlight piece from the BSM’s Greenlandic collection is this pair of thigh-high red boots (left). They are made of de-haired sealskin which has been colored bright red using commercial paint. Each boot also features a sealskin inner boot topped with a black fur cuff. This pair was specially made by Laurie Jeremiassen in 1955 for her silver wedding anniversary, while she was living on Disco Island in West Greenland. Like the tall white boots, this pair is decorated with colorful lines of avittat. This embroidery is achieved with tiny, rectangular pieces of dyed sealskin which are painstakingly stitched one by one to create intricate designs. While conducting field research in Greenland, Rick and Jill learned how to create avittat embroidery, as well as other decorative techniques, from seamstresses such as Karen Nielsen (pictured below). As a result, they developed a greater appreciation of the creativity and skillfulness that seamstresses needed to create these types of boots.

Karen Neilsen and Jill Oakes. Nuuk, Greenland. August, 1988. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Karen Neilsen and Jill Oakes. Nuuk, Greenland. August, 1988. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Colorful and intricately embellished boots such as these examples were often reserved for special occasions, and could be worn as a part of the Greenlandic national costume. To make a pair is a huge undertaking as these boots require time, patience and dexterity to create. Traditional Greenlandic boots often display a resourceful mix of naturally-sourced materials such as sealskin and sinew, as well as commercially-available materials such as lace, cotton and silks. Through their choice of materials and decorative styles, seamstresses’ fashioned footwear which reflected a mix of European and Inuit influences in a way that was distinctly and uniquely Greenlandic.

These examples offer a brief glimpse into all of the wonderful footwear and clothing that we currently have on display in Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Clothing from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection.