Last week we heard from Linda Moore, Chief Operating Officer at the Museum. Today’s post comes from Jerilyn MacLaren-Hall who has visited The Shoe Must Go On! exhibition many times, and joined the party for Girls’ Night Out. She is an Experience Design (XD) Strategist at MISI Company.
Allow me to begin with: I love shoes.
I am obsessed with them and the obsession apparently started at a very early age. My mom often tells her friends that I changed my shoes 5 and 6 times a day when I was little to make sure they all got a fair chance to strut their stuff at least once before I grew out of them. My husband tells his version of my first time meeting his parents down in Florida and the confusion caused by my 2 large suitcases for a 3 day trip. His explanation to his Dad: “the first suitcase is what you would expect from a girl. The second? It’s all shoes. Shoes for every outfit and an outfit for every possible occasion…”.
Shoes from That’s Entertainment Section of the exhibition
When Linda Moore first told me about the exhibit, it was Christmas-time 2009. We were having a larger conversation about how visitors experience the museum and more importantly, how they become aware and engaged by it. The shoe exhibit was one of many Linda would tell me about that night as a hook for getting me engaged and ready to contribute. She had me at shoes.
Later on, I would come to learn that this exhibit wasn’t just about fashion shoes though – it was about much much more. This exhibit would take an age old discussion of what shoes say about the woman and expand it to really touch upon, what do shoes tell us about the artist who created them, the person who is wearing them, and ultimately, the society that is endorsing them. This exhibit would tell a story of patriarchies and matriarchies yes, but it would also tell us stories of national politics, global warming, the gold medal dreams of youth, and lastly, our human story and the steps walked to get us where we are today.
Mother’s Day at the exhibit opening : my Mom (Marilyn MacLaren) with Linda Moore, Morris Museum COO
I took my Mom to the exhibit on Mother’s Day (this would be the first of several visits to this exhibit for me). It was probably one of the most lovely and engaging afternoons I have spent with Mom – not because of the disco shoes that gave us a good giggle, but because of the sense of awe that a pair of bound feet shoes can always stir in any onlooker. This wasn’t my first time seeing shoes like those, but it was my first time talking with my Mom about what it must have been like to be so defined by an article of clothing, and an article that was hidden no less! Even at an early age, my Mom always made sure I knew – “NEVER be defined by what you wear, or how you look. Instead, define your clothes by how you wear them – and define yourself by how you behave and what you think.” But what about the women who wore those tiny shoes? Did the shoes really define them? Or did they just fulfill a societal / public duty that behind the scenes, in the private sphere, was completely different?
A proud moment for me shoe-wise, at Girls’ Night Out shoe party
This exhibit was striking to both of us because no matter which shoes we were looking at, our conversation focused on the “who,” not the “what.” Even as we purred over zebra, it was less the height of the heel and more its design (and its designer) that we talked about. We admired the sense of play he expressed in creating a heel that made no logical sense when you thought about wearing it, and yet – has a heel ever made sense?
I fell in love with Etu Evans’s zebra striped “Harp Heel” shoe – and was thrilled to meet him.
In my mind, shoes are a powerful weapon. They can reveal so much about who we are and what we value (and I don’t mean labels). My favorite pair? A pair of basic black patent leather Tahari pumps with heels so torn and chewed I couldn’t even give them to Goodwill if I wanted to. They are nothing special to look at (truth be told, they never were), but the memories of first sales pitches won, promotions earned, and most importantly, Friday evening 7pm dashes through Dulles Airport to get home to my family, give them a place in my shoe rack that could never be filled by a newer, shinier, pair.