The Peabody Essex Museum’s latest exhibition, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, is an exploration into over 300 pairs of shoes through their varied histories, cultural significance, and even the personal experiences of those who collect or wear them. The exhibition, which is making its U.S. debut at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), is organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director, has enjoyed sharing her own passions for shoes while working as the coordinating curator for the exhibition. Hartigan’s personal stories which are displayed throughout the exhibit, begin with the moment when she first acknowledged the importance of shoes in her life, during a forest fire that threatened her childhood home: “My mother told my brother and me to grab two things to take in the car. What did I choose? My pink teddy bear and brand new pair of black patent leather Mary Janes.”
The exhibit is divided into different themes: Transformation, Status, Seduction, Creation, and Obsession. Each section features shoes that fit the theme, from a variety of time periods and owners, like David Beckham, Elton John, and Naomi Campbell. In addition many of the shoes were designed by such well-known names in the fashion industry such as Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo, and some of the shoes were even crafted locally in the towns of Lynn and Haverhill. Other local connections in the exhibit are the 110 pairs shoes added to the display from the PEM’s fashion collection, and the shoes in the Obsession gallery that belong to local collectors, Jimmy Raye, and Lillian Montalto Bohlen.
The opening day festival for Shoes: Pleasure and Pain takes place on Saturday, November 19th, and will feature a variety of shoe-themed events that are included with museum admission. Among the events are a sneaker museum pop-up exhibition, showcasing the contemporary culture surrounding sneakers, and a shoemaking demonstration where guests can see how shoes are made with artist Malika Green. The opening day festival is made possible by the Lowell Foundation, and the full schedule of events may be found on the PEM’s website.
During the first two weeks of the exhibition, PEM is partnering with Dress for Success Boston through a shoe drive held at the museum to assist disadvantaged women with dressing professionally while attending job interviews. The organization allows women to work with volunteer stylists in selection the best outfits for interviews at no cost to them. Dress for Success asks that all donated shoes be appropriate for job interviews, with solid colors preferred and no open-toe, slingback, mule, or stiletto platform shoes may be accepted. Guests looking to donate shoes may bring them to the entrance of the museum where a volunteer will assist them.
The recent initiative in expanding the museum’s fashion collection is evident through Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. With an exhibit design that contrasts from the typical retail environment, guests are able to take away a greater knowledge and understanding about shoes, and fashion in general, serve not only as art but as creative forms of personal expression. Hartigan summarizes the theme of the exhibit in stating, “Shoes are about the personal creativity of the designer and the person who wears that shoe. It’s a partnership between two people who likely never meet. You can make something wonderful, but if someone doesn’t respond to it, there is something incomplete about the act. Creation is about communication.”
Shoes: Pleasure and Pain is on view from November 19, 2016 – March 12, 2017, and is included in museum admission. For complete information on the opening day festival and the Dress for Success donation program, please visit PEM.org.