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New Museum Exhibition - Stepping Out: Shoes in World Cultures

New exhibition features nineteenth and twentieth century shoes from around the world

Throughout world cultures, an incredible diversity exists among footwear.  In the most utilitarian sense, shoes and sandals simply protect feet; hence, practical concerns have long driven shoe design. Indian padukas, or toe-knob sandals, elevate feet above the sun-scorched ground while offering protection from debris.  Other shoes were fabricated for specific purposes; for instance, during the 1870s, athletic footwear began to be offered for sports and leisure activities, such as tennis.  The invention of vulcanized rubber in the nineteenth century made these new, rubber-soled sneakers possible.

For centuries, elevated shoes with platforms, stilts, or heels served to keep one’s feet and clothing protected from unfavorable conditions.  At the same time, elevated heel heights associated the wearer with wealth and prestige.  Japanese geisha wore finely made, lacquered wood, high-platform geta, which required slow, short steps.  Decorative ornamentation appears on even the most pragmatic footwear.  Elaborate embroidery, appliqué, and beading are some of the many techniques employed. Each of these embellishments accents a variety of Native American moccasins.  As with shoe height, such adornment might signify a person’s prominent position in society.

Decorative elements also serve symbolic purposes.  Tigers, the most quintessential motif embroidered on young, Chinese boys’ shoes, are meant to frighten evil spirits and help children grow to be strong and fearless.  Some decorative shoes are intended for festive occasions, such as weddings, when historically many Dutch and French villagers wore their most colorful, painted wooden clogs.

Western wedding shoes, early basketball sneakers, beaded moccasins, European clogs, Chinese children’s shoes, and Japanese geta are a few of the many shoes featured in this exhibition.

The online version of the exhibition is viewable at: http://www.flysfo.com/museum/exhibitions/stepping-out-shoes-world-cultures

Stepping Out: Shoes in World Cultures is located pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby, San Francisco International Airport. This exhibition is on view to all airport visitors from April 1, 2017, to November 12, 2017.