Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bata Shoe Museum

When you visit a specialty museum that concentrates on a very specific topic like the Bata Shoe Museum does, you wonder how they can sustain enough different content to be interesting.  Based on what we saw on this current visit, another "free day" courtesy of our AGO membership, they don't seem to have much a problem.

Viewing the exhibit called "Roaring Twenties, Heels, Hemlines and High Spirits", I'm struck by how dainty and narrow all the styles were.  Women with short wide feet like mine would not do well in those days.  On that note, I guess the sleek slim-fitting flapper dresses weren't made with height-challenged women in mind either.

The styles of the 1920's were influenced by the Suffragette movement, so the shoes needed to strike a balance between fashion and functionality for the "modern working woman on the go".   Most of the shoes had heels of moderate width and length that looked stylish while still providing stability and balance, an inset strap across the top to hold the foot in place, and sported beautiful designs and patterns.  The navy blue and beige striped shoes have an Art Deco design with scalloped toe and triangular chevrons on the sides that were inspired by the lines of skyscrapers of the time.

The next exhibit of note was called "Shoes in Art", consisting of various paintings, etchings, drawings and sculptures that depicted images of shoes or the craft of shoe-making throughout history.  Examples of the tools being used in the pictures accompanied them, such as this foot measuring device.  Cartoons spoofed the tradesmen and their customers as in this image of two men trying to sneak by the shoemaker to whom they owe money.

Various creative sculptures were made of or based on shoes. A caricature of a French officer is created using a man's casual leather shoe as a base, with facial features painted or glued on to create a surprised expression.  Another sculpture depicts a woman's exaggeratedly high heeled shoe (that pays homage to  Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory melted clock painting), joined by laces to a man's Oxford shoe.  A pair of quaint sculptures turn boots into a duck and a beer dispenser.

An exhibit on Native North American footwear show an assortment of deer skin moccasins with intricate beading made of died porcupine quills strung together with sinew string.  The term moccasin means "to be gathered".

A selection of celebrity shoes was "highlighted" by the recent addition of a pair of purple sneakers owned by Justin Bieber.  Apparently the Bata Shoe Museum was swarmed by teenaged girls on March break who wanted a glimpse of their idol's footwear.  Kreesha Turner's death defying stilettos and Fred Penner's whimsically decorated canvas runners were amongst others on display.

Finally, the permanent collection "All About Shoes - Footwear through the Ages" is always worth another visit for its fascinating historical and cultural insights into the evolution of footwear.  We saw everything from shoes of the Renaissance age, to French chestnut crushing clog, to Chinese children's booties shaped like dragons to a recuperating boot for an injured cow's hoof

In the stories and fairy tales selection, the shoe featured in the classic "Cinderella" story is shown from the various cultural perspectives.  In each case, the heroine loses her shoe, which is retrieved by a handsome wealthy nobleman who falls in love with her.  But the nature of the slipper varies from the traditionally known clear glass (French) to decorative porcelain (Holland) to straw (Korean) to gilded leather (Egyptian).

Instead of audio guides, more and more museums and galleries now use the smart phone to provide further information.  The exhibits at the Bata Shoe Museum offered QR bar code readers as well as a 1-800 number to call for more detailed descriptions of selected displays.  Now if I could only remember to carry my cell phone with me, this would be useful.  I ended up writing down the 1-800 number and listening to the commentaries once I got home.

Thinking back to my original ponderance about whether a museum just about shoes could sustain my interest, based on what we saw on this visit, the answer is a resounding yes.

Bata Shoe Museum
327 Bloor St West

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