Toronto-based Bata Shoe Museum is celebrating the craftsmanship of indigenous cultures in a new exhibition opening today. “Art & Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection” presents a rare selection of footwear, clothing and tools created and utilized by various groups in the polar regions.
Among the exemplary items on display are all-white raindeer boots from Siberia, thigh-high red kamiks collected from Greenland, and seal-fur Inuit boots decorated with polar bear designs. The exhibition also includes an innovative pair of short caribou boots by Norway’s Saami people — the shoes feature an upturned toe that can hook the boot into a pair of skis.
Over a period of about 20 years, museum founder Sonja Bata and the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation supported research trips to the Arctic to collect and learn about makers in these communities. In a statement, she said, “When I founded the Bata Shoe Museum, my vision was to establish a global center of knowledge on the history of footwear and shoemaking. I was particularly determined, in our fast-changing world, to contribute to the documentation of indigenous shoe patterns and designs.”
Bata added, “As a Canadian institution, we funded field research trips to the Canadian Arctic, but we also selected several diverse circumpolar regions and sent field researchers to Greenland, Alaska, Eastern and Western Siberia and Sápmi, the Sami homeland. Every one of these shoes has a story to tell.”
Many of the museum’s research trips were led by University of Manitoba professors Jill Oakes and Rick Riewe, who helped the museum amass its rich and diverse circumpolar collection and who served as guest curators for “Art & Innovation.”
In a statement from Bata, Oakes and Riewe recalled some important lessons learned on their journeys: “Living, traveling on the land and working with Inuit in the field, we were introduced to the meaning and importance of traditional clothing, footwear and tools. As one hunter in Arviat explained, his skin clothing was more important than his skidoo or gun.”
“Art & Innovation” is a semi-permanent exhibition and will be on view for several years. Its opening also serves as a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Bata Shoe Museum.