From the Vault: Fish Skin Boots

Take a peek into our 14,000+ collection with our blog series, From the Vault! Every other week, we're sharing interesting stories about one of our artefacts.

What is the provenance of this pair? When did they enter the BSM collection?

This pair of fish skin boots was made by the Nanai seamstress Ann Michailovna Beldi. They were acquired from her on behalf of the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation in 1994.

Are there any features that distinguish this pair from other footwear from the same period and geographical location?

The Nanai are from the Amur region in the eastern part of Russia and their traditional attire includes fish skin boots worn with decorative sock inserts. The socks of this pair were quilted to provide extra warmth. Both the boots and the socks are heavily decorated with textile appliqué that reflects Chinese influence. The Amur river demarcates a boundary between Russia and China and the Nanai live in both countries.

Can you elaborate more on the materials used to make this pair?

The Nanai are renown for their historical use of fish skin to make clothing and footwear. The Amur river is home to a wide range of fish that can be used for clothing including salmon and silver carp, yellow croaker and sturgeon. This pair appears to have been made using salmon skin. The boot shafts and the socks are made from cotton cloth as are the embellishments. Fish skin offers lightweight waterproof protection that is surprisingly durable.

Who would have worn this pair and where or for what occasion?

This pair would have been worn by a woman. The wearing of fish-skin clothing fell out of fashion in the middle of the 20th century for a range of cultural and political reasons but the craft is being kept alive by a number of women who continue to make it on commission.

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