Shoes step forward for exhibition

ANGI KENNEDY For some of us, they are the one self-indulgent reason to scrimp and save. For others, they are the way to define their character, a mask to hide behind or a banner to wave.

ANGI KENNEDY

For some of us, they are the one self-indulgent reason to scrimp and save. For others, they are the way to define their character, a mask to hide behind or a banner to wave. And, for the rest of us, they are simply something comfortable to pull on to our feet before we step outside.

Whatever your attitude to shoes - and it can range from the practical to the truly sublime - the latest exhibition to strut its stuff at Norwich Castle is not to be missed.

Shoes: The Agony and the Ecstasy promises to be a complete feast for the feet, with everything from the desirable delights of designers Jimmy Choo and Christian Louboutin to shoes with their own history, such as Elton John's performance boot!

But the exhibition, which opens this month, is not just for Sex And The City types who lust after the latest pair of Manolo Blahniks. As project curator and self-confessed shoe-aholic Ruth Battersby Tooke explained, the touring exhibition confronts more than simple shoe obsession.

“It looks at the unique relationship with shoes,” she said. “Yes, there is the Carrie Bradshaw side of it, but it is also really thought-provoking. There are a lot of questions and implications for people to think about.”

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The exhibition comes from the Tyne and Wear Museum, where it was put together by Caroline Whitehead from collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Northampton Shoe Collection.

With themes like Pain and Pleasure, Sense and Sensibility and What Is Fashion? the exhibition spans the story of footwear as well as fashion. It features shoes from around the world, including a Roman sandal and a Chinese lotus shoe for a tiny bound foot.

There is also a section about children's shoes, telling the story of how they started out as simply little replicas of adult shoes. It was much later that the “Start-rite revolution” came about, which finally highlighted the importance of measuring children's feet and of designing shoes specifically for growing feet.

“This will be a great part of the exhibition for families. We hope multi-generational groups will come along and talk about what shoes were like when they were young, and what sort of shoes they had wanted to wear,” said Mrs Battersby Tooke, who is curator of costume and textiles for Norfolk Museums.

“There will be everything from giant shoes to shoes from mythology, such as Puss in Boots. There will be an area for shoe handling and lots for children to do, so it will be for the whole family.

“This really is going to be one of the most dramatic collections of the past 50 years of shoe design.”

Of course, Norwich's own shoe industry was the envy of the world for almost two centuries, with thousands of people working for companies like Start-rite, Norvic, Bally, Holmes, Van Dal, and Shingler and Thetford. That proud history is also reflected in examples on show during the exhibition.

Three displays of Norwich shoes will feature in the exhibition, providing a reminder of the city's shoe-making heritage. These have been specially selected from the collections at the Bridewell Museum, with donations from Start-rite and loans from the archives of the Florida Group, the makers of Van Dal shoes and one of the last remaining shoe manufacturers in Norwich.

The Costume and Textile Association for Norfolk Museums has been conducting interviews with some of the former shoe workers recently, and this oral history has been used to research background for the exhibition.

To coincide with the shoe exhibition, Mrs Battersby Tooke has put together another treat for shoe fans. At Carrow House in Norwich, she has created Stepping Out, 300 Years of Fantastic Footwear.

This exhibition will run at the costume and textile study centre until next June and it features shoes with stories to tell from the museum collections.

These range from 1780 to 1970 and will take visitors on a fascinating journey through the evolution in shoe design as well as through the social class structure.

There is an interesting collection of “pattens”, simple raised footwear which would be worn by country-folk to lift them out of the mud, plus some stunning Victorian stockings which give the lie to the sober fashion trends of the day.

What is so noticeable about this collection of shoes through the ages is that echoes of their designs can still be found in shoe shops around Norfolk today. From the ornately bejewelled designs fit for courtly wear to the delicate dancing shoes to the practical lace-up leather boots, there is something most of us will find reflected in our own shoe choices.

For Mrs Battersby Tooke, the opportunity to explore the hidden meanings of shoes and to indulge her own love of footwear has been a dream job.

She commented: “We all need to use shoes in order to go about our everyday lives. But also they form part of our social history, and the nature of our personal expression and desire of who we want to be.

“We might not feel particularly confident, but if we put on a pair of snakeskin red stilettos, we can express a vision of the person we want to be.”

Shoes: The Agony and the Ecstasy will be at Norwich Castle from Monday September 25 until January 14 2007 in the Norwich Union and Bernard Matthews Galleries.

Norwich Castle opening times are Monday to Friday 10am-4.30pm, Saturday 10am-5pm, Sunday 1pm-5pm. School half-term Monday to Saturday 10am-5.30pm, Sunday 1pm-5pm.

Norwich Castle admission: Adult £4.30-£6.30, concession £3.65-£5.35, young person (four to 16 years) £3.15-£4.60.

Stepping Out, 300 Years of Fantastic Footwear is showing at Carrow House in Norwich until June 2007. Visitors need to book at least a week in advance to view this exhibition, on 01603 223870.

EXHIBITION EVENTS

Gallery talks

All will be held in the art and exhibitions zone at 12.30pm. Prices: £4.30 adults, £3.65 concessions, £3.15 children.

t Tuesday October 17: Fabulous Shoes. Ruth Battersby Tooke, curator of costume and textiles, reflects on the diversity and creativity of shoe designers and contemporary craftspeople.

t Tuesday November 7: The Construction and Design of Shoes. Join Tessa Tuddenham of Norwich shoe brands Van Dal and Brooke to discover how women's shoes are made and how the skills of the past still play their part today.

t Tuesday November 14: If The Shoe Fits. Charles Boyce, training manager at Start-rite, describes how the company pioneered and developed fitted shoes for children.

t Tuesday November 21: Morgan the Cordwainer. Meet a medieval shoemaker. Learn about his work and watch as he demonstrates how to make a medieval “turnshoe”.

t Tuesday November 28: Norwich - Why Shoes? Find out how and why the Norwich shoe trade developed with Simon Goodman, chairman and joint managing director for Norwich shoe brands Van Dal and Brooke.

Special events

t Saturday October 14: I Do Shoe. Performance artist Silvia Ziranek investigates the joys of finer footwear, using her trademark colour and language, in a performance specially created for the exhibition. Art and Exhibitions zone, 2pm. Adults £4.30, concessions £3.65, children £3.15.

t Saturday November 4: A Well-Heeled Art. Leading costume historian and lecturer Cally Blackman gives an illustrated talk about shoes in painting from the 15th century to the present day. Town Close Auditorium, Norwich Castle, 2.30pm. Cost: £5.50, concessions £5, members (Museums Pass, Friends of the Norwich Museums, Costume and Textile Association) £4.50. Advance booking essential on 01603 493636. Get 20pc discount on lunch in Café at the Castle on presentation of talk ticket on this date only. Supported by the Costume and Textile Association for Norfolk Museums and the East Anglia Art Fund.

t Tuesday November 21: Shoes Evening Event. Join the experts for a lively evening of talks, gallery tours, presentations and demonstrations inspired by the Shoes exhibition. 6-9pm. Cost: £6.50, members £5.50

Family events for October half-term

t Saturday October 28: Meet the Designer. Norwich Union and Bernard Matthews Galleries, 10.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 3.30pm. Meet shoe designer Marloes Ten Bhomer, learn about her extraordinary designs, then have a go at recreating a card model of one of them. Art and exhibitions zone: adult £4.30, concessions £3.65, children £3.15.

t Wednesday 25 and Thursday 26 October: Crazy Shoe Shuffle. Create crazy shoes out of junk! Be inspired by local artist Diana Thorold's Dream Shoes and make one of your own using recycled materials. For ages eight-plus. 10.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 3.30pm. Cost: £4.50, members £4. Advance booking essential on 01603 493636.

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