Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Otzi the Iceman

On September 19th, 1991, Ötzi the Iceman was found in the Austrian-Italian Alps. He is the oldest, best preserved human body known to science at 5300 years old. Ötzi  Man lived in approximately 3300 BCE and when his body was discovered he was still wearing one of his shoes, which are the oldest known preserved shoes in Europe. The thrilling discovery of this prehistoric shoe led to an in-depth study of his footwear. 

This exact replica, produced under the guidance of the late Czech researcher Dr. Petr Hlavácek, was part of that detailed research. This replica shoe is made from the original raw materials and using the primitive tools, like the flint-stone knife. The hides (bear leather, deer skin and veal skin) were tanned using the primitive technology that was most likely available to the Ötzi  man: beef brain mixed with pork liver, and lightly smoke-dried. After experimenting, Dr. Hlavacek's team believes they also found the Ötzi 's technique for making the bast strings.

This shoe was made to fit Dr. Hlavacek, and was worn by him on a 12-man Czech-Austrian expedition with representatives from Hlavacek's university and the media in September 2001. The men climbed to the peak of Mount Similaun (3,599 metres) shod in the replicas of the Iceman's shoes to demonstrate the footwear's suitability to Alpine snow, water and ice conditions.

Hlavacek's conclusions after two field tests were positive. Assuming the Ötzi 's shoes were custom tailored with an exactness of +/- 5mm, his boots allowed for very comfortable movement, even over uneven forest terrain. The shoes were so effective at weight distribution that the wearers had no blisters and feet were kept dry and warm, effective in temperatures of -5°C to -10°C.

You can see this replica shoe on display now in our "All About Shoes" exhibition. The Ötzi  man mummy is on view at the Museo Archeologico dell'Alto Adige (the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology), in Bolzano, Italy. Visit www.iceman.it/en/ for more information. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Conservation Blog: Monkey Business

In 1986 the BSM acquired at auction an automaton made in the 1880s at the famous Phalibois workshop in Paris, France. It features a monkey cobbler sitting at his workbench under a flowering tree. This artifact was selected for the exhibition in the third floor gallery, Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century, thus providing an excellent opportunity to get the monkey in working order.

There are two separate mechanisms inside the ebonized base: one set of gears, cams and cam riders which make the monkey function when a key is turned; the other component is a music box that plays two tunes by pulling a string. There was one hundred and thirty years of dust and grime stuck to all these moving parts. The wood gears and brass arms to which the cam riders are attached were cleaned in-house. The music box was sent to Jeremie Ryder, an automaton conservator who takes care of the Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Automatic Musical Instruments and Automata, at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.

                               Brass arms viewed from above; cleaning in progress.

The vertical brass arms have riders at their mid-point which glide over the cut profile of the wooden cams, making the horizontal wires which pass upward into the monkey’s torso, move the head, the jaw, the eyes and an arm which bangs the hammer on the boot stand.

The mechanism at the top of the photo above shows the steel-pinned, brass cylinder, which as it rotates, plucks the teeth in the musical comb. Those plucked, vibrating teeth, produce the tones for the musical arrangement. Underneath the tooth tips, are found tiny chicken feathers, attached by shellac. They dampen an already vibrating tooth just before being plucked by another cylinder pin, thus reducing undesirable mechanical noises. All these feathers were replaced after the metal components were cleaned, as seen in the next photo.

The reassembled automaton can now be seen in Fashion Victims.  For a sneak peek of the monkey cobbler hard at work, check out the museum’s YouTube channel.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Glimpse of Grace and Elegance: The Shoes of Oscar Peterson

Jazz legend Oscar Peterson was born on this day in 1925.  In 2008 the Bata Shoe Museum had the honour of inducting his shoes into our permanent collection when they were donated to the museum by his widow Mrs. Kelly Peterson.  During the induction,  jazz pianist Robi Botos performed some of Mr. Peterson's music and Mrs. Peterson spoke about the significance of these particular shoes to her late husband.

"Twenty-seven years ago Oscar Peterson played a concert in Sarasota, Florida. It was my good fortune that I was managing the restaurant he chose for dinner after his concert, and so I met him. One of the first things I noticed, after his charm and grace, were the gorgeous suede shoes he wore.

I soon learned that he wore those shoes only when he performed, and after performances when he went to dinner. These shoes have been his favorites, and when they got too worn he world go to London, to Foster & Son, to buy his next pair. I had never seen shoes like these before, and I was struck by the clean lines and elegance of them. They exemplified the dignity and grace with which Oscar always carried himself, and the excellence of his playing.

If the shoes could talk, the stories they could tell! They have traveled around the world, always protected with shoe trees and shoe bags, brushed when the suede got dusty. Carefully put on before concerts. They could tell us about all the stages in all the concert halls, and all the bandstands in all the nightclubs where Oscar Peterson performed. They could tell us about the stomping rhythms they propelled, and the gentle caresses of the pedals as he played those sensitive ballads. They could speak about the music that resonated and that resonates still. It is my hope that people who come here to see these shoes will have a glimpse of the grace and elegance with which Oscar always carried himself. It is my hope that they will hear some stories whispered, and that they will hear echos of his music always."

Monday, July 10, 2017

Conservation Blog: A Rare Shade of Green

This is a rare pair of shagreen leather riding shoes originating from 16th Century Persia. When they were acquired by the BSM in 2006 a large piece of leather was missing from one of the shoes. As well, both shoes had short tears on the quarters (the sides) and the vamps (the front upper sections).

Shagreen was created by using the skin from the hind quarters of a horse, donkey or onager (wild ass). The skin was cleaned by removing the hair and flesh and skived to produce a thinner material. Then it was washed and placed on a stretcher frame. Goosefoot seeds, a member of the amaranth family, were pressed into the dampened skin. Once the skin had dried, the seeds were knocked off and the pimply surface they created was smoothed with a knife. The skin was washed again, causing the impressions to swell, treated with an alkaline solution and then dyed.

In order to stabilize these shoes for display, a similar technique was used to create infills that would not be visually distracting. To replace the losses, pieces of thick Japanese paper were toned with acrylic paints to match the colour of the surrounding shagreen. Each patch was moistened with distilled water, then mustard seeds, with their hulls intact, were pressed into the paper. The fills were sandwiched between two layers of thin foam sheeting and weighted until dry.

Checking the faux shagreen for colour and texture.

 Building up the fill with unpainted Japanese paper.

Unpainted pieces of the same Japanese paper were cut to the size of the holes. They were stacked on top of each other until the height of the hole was achieved as the shagreen is rather thick. The faux shagreen was cut to appropriate size using a template traced onto polyester film. The edges of each fill were feathered by applying a thin moistened brush along the outline of the fill, then tearing along this line. This feathering technique makes the fill blend in more evenly instead of leaving the paper with exacting lines.

Come and see the final results! These shagreen horseback riding shoes are on display in Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels until the exhibition closes on November 22nd, 2017.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sea Me Now: Treatment of a Pair of Deep Sea Diving Boots

These deep sea diver’s boots were made in the 1920s by Siebe Gorman, a company originally based in London, England. They are made with a thick leather boot anchored by a heavy brass sole each weighing 8.2kg (18 lbs). The strap over the vamp is 4cm wide (1 ½”) with 2 narrower straps, 2cm wide (3/4”), that wrap around the ankle and top edge. All components are secured with copper rivets which were covered with waxy green residue.

This residue is caused by fatty acids in the leather and the oil of a leather dressing applied by the previous owner reacting with the copper rivets and creating a metal soap. If left in place, this corrosion byproduct expands, damaging the leather and obscuring the rivets.

The treatment involved removing this residue from the surface of the rivets and the leather. Since copper is easily scratched it was decided to limit the tools for mechanical cleaning to wooden picks and soft micro brushes. The other consideration was to prevent the residue from becoming embedded in the leather so a short length of polyethylene surgical tubing was fitted into the terminal end of a micro nozzle attached to a low suction vacuum. The technique used required some ambidexterity as the cleaning was done with one hand while the other hand held the vacuum nozzle close to the work surface. After the residue was removed the rivets were cleaned with an organic solvent.

This treatment does not stop of development of metal soaps but removing it makes it easier to spot future accumulations. A half pair of the diving boots is now on display in the What’s Their Line? section of the All About Shoes exhibition on the lower level of the museum.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

In Need of Some Polish: Conservation of a Late 19th C Shoe Polish Box

Sometimes when a museum curator is planning an exhibition, they discover that there are artifacts needed to tell a story that are not yet part of the overall collection. This box was acquired by the BSM for just such a reason.  It was purchased, along with its accompanying glass bottle containing remnants of black shoe polish, for our exhibition Fashion Victims: The Pleasures & Perils of Dress in the 19th Century.

As you can see from the photographs taken at the time of acquisition, the box was in poor condition. The paper wrapping covering the cardstock form was very dirty and had many losses. The corners of the box were torn and misshapen making it structurally unsound for display.

The paper was cleaned with cosmetic sponges and vinyl erasers to remove surface dirt. The box and its lid were gently humidified to reshape the distorted sides back into the intended shape. Holes in the torn paper wrapping were filled with a Kozo paper of similar weight. Kozo is made from the inner bark of the mulberry bush. The paper fills and torn corners were glued with wheat starch paste.

One side of the lid was missing some of its descriptive text. The gold ink drop shadow letters were recreated by photocopying an ‘R’, ‘H’, ‘E’ and ‘S’, cutting them around them with a scalpel, then gluing them on to the Kozo paper patch.

The box and bottle of shoe polish will be on display until the exhibition closes in April 2018.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Spotlight on Conservation: Gutskin Parka (Part 2)

Mounting the gutskin parka for the Arctic exhibition required some creativity. It is so light and translucent and we wanted to impart these features to museum guests. Putting the parka on a mannequin wouldn’t be suitable since the intestine when dry is brittle, making for a very stiff form.

We decided to use an acrylic support, displaying the parka in a vertical position as this would take up less space in the showcase than positioning it on a slanted, horizontal board. The solution to this conundrum needed to be strong yet invisible. 

The parka was placed on a table covered with brown paper; its outline was traced in pencil. The exhibit fabricators used this stencil to cut an acrylic support adding 15cm around the entire perimeter. A padded internal support for the hood was cut from polyethylene foam, then covered with polyester batting and encased in a poly cotton neutral coloured stretch knit. Once the exact location of the hood was determined, the covered support was hot melt glued to the acrylic. 

Encapsulated magnets
Rare earth magnets are used by museums to display posters and textiles. This seemed to be the perfect solution for holding the parka on the support. Four centimeter-wide cotton twill tape was used to encase the circular magnets, which were spaced every 15cm and held in place by stitching 2 layers of twill tape around each magnet. One magnetized tape was placed horizontally passing through both arms from wrist to wrist. Two magnetized tapes were placed vertically below the previous tape. The interior of the parka was stuffed with polyester tulle to provide support. 

Magnets placed horizontally through both arms

Come and see the final product - the parka on display -  in Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection, on now at the BSM!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Spotlight on Conservation: Gutskin Parka (Part I)

Unrolled parka
While it might not look like it at first glance, this rolled up bundle is a parka made and worn by Irene Davis of Nunivik Island, Alaska. The parka was slated for display in our Arctic-themed exhibition “Art and Innovation” but in order to assess its condition for display the parka had to be completely unrolled.

Partially unrolled parka

The parka is composed of bearded seal intestine decorated with tufts of red dyed dog hair inserted into the seams. The hair was dyed by laying it between layers of moistened red crepe paper. The string-sewn seams are reinforced with grass which prevents the stitches from tearing through the skin.

Intestines of sea mammals have been used in Alaska for centuries in the production of waterproof garments worn when hunting at sea in kayaks or, if highly decorated, for special occasions. After the viscera is removed from the carcass, the contents of the intestines are cleaned by washing and scraping. The length of intestine is then inflated and left outside to dry. When the gut is needed, it is sliced open, then sewn in strips either vertically or horizontally.

The unrolling of the parka was a gradual process. Each tuft of dog hair is encapsulated in a plastic pouch to prevent contact with water and the possibility of releasing the fugitive red dye. A very soft Japanese Hake brush (made with sheep hair bristles) is moistened with distilled water and applied to the surface of the gut. The wetted gut (although brittle when dry, it is quite strong when wet) is gently manipulated to ease out hard creases. Acid free tissue paper supports the gutskin as it dries. Once the parka was reshaped, tears and holes in the gutskin were patched with commercial sausage casing and an appropriate adhesive.

Tear in chest of parka

Tear in shoulder hood of parka