Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Beyond the Glass: Seeing, Touching, Smelling, and Hearing

By Fiona Kovacaj, Education Intern

Have you ever walked around a museum wondering what an artefact would feel like, or what it would smell like, or how it would sound? Sometimes seeing is not enough and for that reason, the Bata Shoe Museum has an extensive hands-on collection full of artefacts that engage all the senses - you can see them, touch them, smell them  and hear about them— everything but taste! How good would a wooden clog taste anyway?!

Every Saturday between 1:30 and 3:30 PM, you can join one of our knowledgeable docents for a hands-on presentation in the BSM's permanent gallery All About Shoes. There, you may be surprised to encounter a massive Timberland boot custom made for Shaquille O’Neal’s. The former NBA star wears a size 22 EEE (extra, extra, extra wide). Since most shoe companies don’t mass-manufacture a size this big, Shaquille O’Neil had to custom order his Timberlands. At this point, you may be wondering how much this shoe weighs or how big it looks next to a smaller size. This is where the hands-on component is useful because you can feel just how heavy it is and you can compare it next to your own shoe to really get a sense of the size. And, of course, you can take a picture with it to show your family and friends.

Because this collection is so diverse, you might also discover a pair of Dutch clogs next to the colossal Timberland. Clogs are a traditional form of footwear in the Netherlands. They are carved from wood, usually poplar, and can be painted or left undecorated. Decorations range from simple initials to more elaborate painted scenes, meant to personalize and diversify the shoes. This particular pair is painted red and in the middle, framed by yellow tulips. There is a windmill in a meadow with the word Holland painted just above, which identifies these clogs as a tourist item. It you get to do more than just look at these clogs!  By holding one in your hands you are able to discover that it is surprisingly light and that the inside is very smooth. When walked gently along the table, it also makes a clunking sound, perfect for clog dancing!

Another fascinating artefact in the hands-on collection is a pair of Athapaskan moccasins. These are decorated with moose hair tufting, a craft invented by M├ętis women in the early 20th century. Tufting is a very difficult skill to master. It requires you to make a small pompom out of the hairs from a moose, which is a lot harder than it sounds! By running your fingers along the tufting you can feel the roughness of the moose hairs. Smell is a very important part of observing the moccasin. The scent is often identified as smoky. It smells like this for a reason! One of the major steps in the process of crafting a moccasin is hanging the skin over a fire. This step ensures that the moccasin is more water-resistant because the smoke fills up all the little holes.

The opportunity to see and touch an artefact enriches your experience with it. By holding the Timberland, the clogs, and the moccasins in your hands, you are able to make your own discoveries about them. This tactile experience is further enriched by an explanation from a docent who can guide the way you look at an artefact and provide interesting information about its function and creation. I can also verify, from my own experiences with the hands-on collection, that it is also a fun way to learn about the history of shoes!


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