The saying “walk a mile in their shoes” takes on new dimensions in “Walk This Way,” a traveling exhibition from the New-York Historical Society that’s currently on view at the Paine Art Center in Oshkosh (thepaine.org). Showcasing more than 100 pairs of shoes from designer Stuart Weitzman’s private collection, the exhibition is an expansive survey of American shoe design over the past 180 years.
From practical and utilitarian boots made during the suffrage movement to art deco-inspired gold evening sandals in vogue during Hollywood’s golden age, the shoes in the show remind viewers of the intersection between fashion, politics and culture. A stunning typification of the high-end of shoe design is seen in Salvatore Ferragamo’s “Madonna” sandal. Designed for Sophia Loren, the piece features gorgeous handmade oral patterns, lace and fine beading.
Laura Fiser, curator of collections and exhibitions at the Paine, says the exhibit invites visitors to think both about how the shoes were used in their heyday, and why they might have been preserved. “It’s really interesting to think about collections and how they develop,” Fiser says. “Was it saved because it was a pair of shoes at one’s wedding? Was it saved because someone famous wore it? Or was it saved because it marks an important moment in history?”
By thinking not just about the shoes, but the paths they’ve taken – from manufacturing, to being worn, to years spent in storage – visitors can imagine what the pairs meant to those who owned them, and what that significance reveals about the evolution of design and style over time.