Welcome to the new History Lady Blog! You can find links to the archived History Lady radio segments and Aurore’s “Looking Back” columns in the New Hampshire Union Leader at https://www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter/
The Currier Museum of Art’s current exhibition Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe challenges the viewer to examine a common item of clothing—the elevated shoe—and to think about it and its many variations through the perspectives of fashion, art, engineering, and history. This is the exclusive New England venue for this traveling show which was organized by the Brooklyn Museum in New York. The exhibition, which is on view until Sunday, May 15, includes shoes spanning 300 years. The exhibition also includes several commissioned videos that are both intriguing and provocative.
Killer Heels features approximately 100 pairs of modern footwear, many produced by today’s most famous design houses (including Prada and Manolo Blahnick), and about 50 pairs of historical shoes. Among the modern examples are those designed as high-fashioned accessories, and others that were created as pure art. This second category includes fantastical sculptural works, crafted from a variety of unusual (and sometimes shocking) materials—as well as sophisticated shoes that were constructed to demonstrate architectural principles on a small scale.
The historical shoes constitute almost a show-within-a-show. A pair of c. 1720 British women’s shoes, made of leather, silk and wood, has heels placed near the center of the foot to prevent the shoes from collapsing under the weight of the wearer. This shoes stayed together, but the heels made walking difficult. This is not surprising as providing comfort to the wearer is generally not the purpose of a high-heeled shoe. As an exhibit label explains, “Women who wear high heels undergo a kind of metamorphosis. They appear taller and their entire posture changes.” The shoes cause the woman to walk in a way that signifies “alluring femininity.” From viewing the examples on display, it becomes apparent that this “femininity” can be defined in many different ways. Even humor can be alluring, as the exaggerated platform heels used during the disco-era are both attractive, and smile-inducing.
The exhibit goer who is simply searching for something beautiful to look at will not be disappointed, as there are many shoes on display that have pleasing shapes and that are made of fine materials, including embroidered silk, velvet, jewel-tone glass, polished wood, and finely tooled leather. The elegant shoes from the 1920s and 1930s are particularly lovely, as are the wedge-heeled shoes from the 1940s. The exhibition also includes historical footwear from the Middle East and Asia, which are interesting for how they were engineered to serve specific purposes within their cultures. One pair of sandals from 19th century Syria (shown here) allowed a woman to keep her feet dry while moving about in a bathhouse. How she could walk on these foot-high stilts is something to think about.
For information on the exhibition, visit www.currier.org
Learn high heels and Manchester’s shoe industry on this archived History Lady segment: http://www.girardatlarge.com/2016/03/history-of-high-heels/