It was actually more interesting than you might think and the balance for museum curators of preserving historic and delicate shoes (particularly light degradation) and making them fully available for interactive public viewing is a difficult one.
I won’t regurgitate the whole day here, but in essence, what was interesting about the research feedback, was that people don’t just want to see just the shoes, but also the story behind the shoe and the shoe wearer, or the inspiration for the design of a shoe.
Although we ladies love and covet our shoes and aspire to one day own a pair of Jimmy Choo‘s, and some are even pure works of art, the humble shoe also carries us around in our daily lives and often not much attention is paid to them. They are very much a piece of personal clothing, moulding to the shape of our feet and favourite pairs invoke memories of wedding days, a child’s first footsteps or a loved one. In a lot of museums, shoes are often accessories, becoming part of a much larger display on social history or costumes, often adapted (holes cut in them) to fit the mannequin. This is horrific to a historic shoe curator!
However, in Northampton, the home of the boot and shoe industry, shoes take the starring role, from humble 17th century workers shoes that have been worn by generations of a family to shoes of royalty and celebrities; shoes from around the world, shoes worn by animals and even shoe concepts that could never be worn.
But how to make an interesting and engaging display that is not dark and drab but protects the most rare and delicate shoes?
One of the talks was from Jamie Fobert, Architect for Selfridges Shoe Galleries and this image made us all gasp with delight. These shoe display tables are made from old shoe lasts (purchased on eBay over 8 months), joined with rods and a pewter surface cast into the top and polished smooth. Isn’t it stunning? We all want one now!
There wasn’t a definitive conclusion and I expect this will continue to be an ongoing project. I would certainly like to be involved from an artistic point of view. Watch this space!
For more on the history of the shoe industry in Northampton, do visit Northamptonshire Boot & Shoe website which was set up as part of the Global Footprint project in conjunction with the Cultural Olympiad in 2012.
If you have never visited the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery, I highly recommend it. You’ll find it in the centre of town on Guildhall Road opposite The Royal & Derngate Theatre. Currently on display is a MOD exhibition, Strictly Come Dancing Shoes and of course a replica of King Richard III’s head …. but that is a whole other story! So I’ll leave you with this quote from Gandhi…