In early New England, the significance of shoes extended beyond function alone. New Englanders prized, celebrated, and displayed their shoes as markers of fashionable style and genteel sensibility. They also refreshed, altered and revamped them, making repairs as long as the leather was still good.
The exhibition Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories, held at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, is a rich exploration of New Englanders and their shoes. We will introduce viewers to lives of figures both prominent and middling, through both stunning and well-worn examples of this significant American accessory. Viewers will explore the process of how shoes were made, sold, and worn in New England, 1750-1850.
Through the lives and letters of clever apprentices, skilled cordwainers, wealthy merchants and elegant brides, Cosmopolitan Consumption will take us on a journey from bustling London streets, to ship cargo holds, to New England shops and, ultimately, to the feet of eager consumers throughout the region. The “shoe stories” recount a young bride dancing with George Washington during his visit to Portsmouth or a lady attending a ball for Marquis de Lafayette; they trace the fortunes and misfortunes of wearers as shoes were altered to accommodate poor health and changing styles, and finally, they provide glimpse into the shoemaking business of artisans like Sam Lane of Stratham, who sold his shoes at Market Square in Portsmouth. This rich shoemaking heritage continues today. We ask our viewers to consider how these fashionable shoes reveal the hopes and dreams of New Englanders.
The “shoe stories” will be told via approximately 25-35 pairs of shoes, pumps, and mules from numerous local, regional and private collections. Many of the shoes have never before been on display, making this a destination exhibition.
An active program series is planned, including gallery talks, special lectures by leaders in the field, a “shoe shopping” event and hands-on workshops. Funding is currently being sought for a catalog and conference. The opportunity for community outreach and engagement at all age groups is especially strong.
Held at the Portsmouth Athenaeum (www.PortsmouthAthenaeum.org), Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the exhibition will open on Valentine’s Day, February 14th 2015 and be on view through late May 2015.
Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D., University of New Hampshire, Co-Curator
Sandra Rux, Curator, Portsmouth Historical Society, Co-Curator
Tom Hardiman, Keeper, Portsmouth Athenaeum
Elise Daniel, Graduate Student Intern, UNH
Meaghan Reddick, Research Associate
Galerie des Modes, 1778