In many cultures around the world, footwear not only serves functional purposes, but also as indicators of social class and economic status. “Stepping Out: Footwear Around the World,” an exhibition put on by UC Davis design students, features shoes from our very own design collection.
The exhibit opens on Monday and will run until July 12. An opening reception will be held on May 17 at 1 p.m. at the museum, and guided tours will be given throughout the afternoon.
After receiving Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and Partner University Fund grants in April 2008, fifth-year senior design and anthropology student Nora Cary has been working with Museum Scientist Adele Zhang to put together this exhibit, which will open on Monday at the Design Museum in Walker Hall.
“I’m interested in historical textiles and I wanted to make an exhibit from styles in the collection,” Cary said. “We have over 5,000 objects in our collection, but I knew shoes would hold a lot of appeal to the public.”
The exhibit is intended to show how design is used throughout the world, how different cultures use materials and what one can show about him or herself through footwear. Cary wanted to design an exhibit that incorporated the theme of global diversity while not having it be perceived as a commercial exhibit (i.e. a shoe store) or take away attention from the importance of the footwear.
After looking through hundreds of styles, Cary and Zhang narrowed it down to 75 pairs of shoes to showcase at the exhibit. Footwear featured at the show is mostly on short- or long-term loan from their original donors. With the help of the design collection database, the information provided on the labels will describe details of each display, such as where it was made, when it was bought and from which country they originated.
“I knew we’d have limited space,” Cary said. “I picked [shoes] based on whether they had an educational function or seemed unique or appealing.”
As for the set up of the exhibit, some shoes are displayed on perforated sheet metal shelved by aluminum tubing. The designers agreed that the overall shelving, lighting and organization should be minimal so that people could focus on the displays while providing a good contrast to the decorative footwear.
Omar Gutierrez, a fifth-year senior interior design student, has been working on the structural aspects of the exhibition since January alongside museum coordinator John Fulton.
“Once I had the concept down, it wasn’t that hard making sure the details were correct and [that] the shelves were able to hold up the shoes,” Gutierrez said.
From a technical point of view, one can see the handy work that went into each individual pair of shoes.
“There are extremely different and unique techniques to different cultures, and that says a lot about their aesthetics and material culture … and how design enriches our lives,” Cary said.
Not only is this an opportunity for people to realize the educational and artistic value of the design collection at UC Davis, but also to encourage undergraduate participation in research projects.
“We try to [let] our students work on academic projects to elevate the usage of the collection and museum to a new level,” Zhang said. “The most important part of the exhibit is the undergraduate student participation.”
Gutierrez added, “It’s great that students are taking part of the reality. When I was first starting [the project], it seemed like paper and pencil … but people are actually going to see this and enjoy it. It’s not just another assignment.”
SIMONE WAHNG can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.