Art and Innovation: Traditional Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection
Now on view 

160210-Arctic-033fAt the top of the world, the Arctic spans over fourteen million square kilometers and includes eight countries. While its landscape seems harsh and inhospitable, over forty distinct culture groups have thrived there for centuries. Among the most beautiful and innovative is the diverse footwear and clothing created to meet environmental challenges and express culture meanings. Drawing from the BSM’s extensive circumpolar holdings and building upon information gathered during the Museum-sponsored field research trips to all Arctic nations, Art and Innovation showcases a vast variety of footwear, garments and tools, highlighting the artistry and ingenuity of the makers, and revealing different cultural identities, crafting techniques and spiritual meanings.

In tandem with the exhibition, we have launched a new blog series – The Arctic Landscape, which highlights the different geographical regions that make up the Arctic (Greenland, Alaska, Siberia, Sápmi and Canada) and features exhibition highlights and rare field images from the museum-funded research trips. The third post, Canada discusses the use of eider duck down by the Canadian Inuit in creating cozy and comfortable clothing and footwear. Click below to read more.


This pair of eider duck slippers is warm and super lightweight. (Photo: Suzanne Petersen © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
This pair of eider duck slippers is warm and super lightweight. (Photo: Suzanne Petersen © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)

Bird skins from a variety of different species were used throughout the circumpolar region to create parkas, slippers, hats and bags. Though they are not very strong and resistant to wear, bird skins are light, warm and naturally waterproof. Historically, the Canadian Inuit, particularly those from the Belcher Islands, used skins from the eider duck to create cozy and comfortable clothing and footwear. This cozy pair of slippers comes from Sanikiluaq. Made of soft eider duck skins, this pair of one of several amazing Inuit artifacts featured in our exhibit, Art and Innovation: Arctic Footwear from the Bata Shoe Museum Collection.

It has been suggested that the use of eider duck skins on the Belcher Islands dates to the late nineteenth century. During this time, there was a series of particularly severe winter storms which covered lichens with a layer of ice. Unable to break through this icy layer, the caribou starved which left the Inuit with no fur to make their clothing. Inuit seamstresses ingeniously turned to eider ducks and began using their skins as an alternative.

Click here to read the entire post and additional images.

In this episode of the BSM’s web series “The World at Your Feet”, Senior Curator Elizabeth Semmelhack examines the techniques and skills used by Canadian Inuit women to create intricate and beautiful designs on traditional kamiks.