Stories from the sole

More than 500 pairs of wild-and-crazy shoes have landed at the Albany Institute of History & Art. “T

More than 500 pairs of wild-and-crazy shoes have landed at the Albany Institute of History & Art.

Created from clay, feathers, fabric, metal, paper and found objects by 100 artists from across the country, they are fantastical footwear, from a sculpture made of teeny Barbie doll slippers to stilettos more than 12 inches high.

And this warning to women for whom shoes are as irresistible as chocolate: You can’t try them on. You can’t even touch them.

“The Perfect Fit: Shoes Tell Stories” is an art exhibit — fine craft and sculpture — created to tickle your mind and imagination, not your tootsies.

‘The Perfect Fit’ & ‘Old Soles’

WHERE: Albany Institute of History & Art, 125 Washington Ave., Albany

WHEN: Through Jan. 2. Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, $6 for children age 6 to 12, children under 6 are free. Admission is free on Albany’s 1st Friday (5 to 8 p.m. Dec. 3)

MORE INFO: or 463-4478

GUIDED TOURS: 2 p.m. Nov. 13, Dec. 4, Dec. 11; 3 p.m. today, Nov. 14, Dec. 5, Dec. 12

RELATED EVENTS: Gallery talk, 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3, two artists from “The Perfect Fit” and curator Wendy Tarlow Kaplan

Traveling from the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Mass., the shoe show will tie up the second floor of Albany Institute through Jan. 2. Kicking it up a notch, the Institute has paired “The Perfect Fit” with “Old Soles: Three Centuries of Shoes from the Albany Institute’s Collection,” in the adjoining Lansing Gallery.

Lorna Stevens, a Massachusetts contributor to “The Perfect Fit,” crafted two pieces for her work “Bound to Please”: a 4-inch-long embroidered fabric slipper in the fashion of the footwear that Chinese girls and women wore for a thousand years; and a 4-inch ceramic foot, stunted and deformed by the practice of binding.

Lila Hackenberg, the wife of a Navy officer who served in Afghanistan, made porcelain military boots that are covered with crawling spiders, which she says, “symbolize our separation and the little things that eat away at our life.”

“Baby Opera” by Judy Haberl is a large artwork with sound that hangs on a wall. Haberl collected more than 300 pairs of infant shoes, had them bronzed and then fused them together. As viewers approach, they hear the cries, gurgles and laughter of babies.

Related story

Click here to read about the exhibit of historical shoes from AIHA’s collection, ‘Old Soles.’

Three of the artists made work to honor and remember women who worked in factories, while another artist perched a dove of peace on a pair of Army boots to salute his friend who fought in Iraq.

Found materials appear in at least two works: a boot made of discarded lottery tickets and shoes made from recycled plastic milk jugs.

While the exhibit is totally contemporary, with works from 2004 to 2008, for independent curator Wendy Tarlow Kaplan, the show is closely connected to the history of Brockton and to her family history.

Family factory

Kaplan grew up in Brockton, and her grandfather owned and operated a factory where leather soles were cut.

“Brockton was known as the great shoe city . . . for men’s shoes,” she said in a recent phone interview.

When she was a girl, Kaplan would go with her father to the factory, where animal hides were piled high and bits of leather floated in the air.

“The smell of leather is one of my most memorable happy smells that I carry with me,” she said.

At the Fuller Craft Museum, where the exhibit was organized, “The Perfect Fit” included a historical overview of the 100 shoe industries that once operated in Brockton. The Albany Institute is the first travel stop for the exhibit, which will tour the country.

“There’s an incredible variety of materials . . . and some amusing presentations,” Kaplan said.

But, she stressed, the artworks also address issues of gender, history, sexuality, politics, class, race and culture.

“Truthfully, I was looking for a strong content component, and shoes are the perfect vehicle for the political.”

Yet, because the theme is shoes, and many women do love shoes, there is also an undeniable accessibility.

Getaway weekend

The Institute is marketing “The Perfect Fit” as part of “Girlfriends Getaway Weekend” that includes Albany hotel accommodations.

“Everybody has to wear shoes,” said Kaplan. “There’s an instant identification.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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