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 second post, Alaska, will highlight a pair of salmon-skin boots field researchers Rick Riewe and Jill Oakes collected, the stories behind this amazing acquisition, and the Alaskan seamstress Eliza Chase who made it all possible. Click below to read more.


Eliza Chase Preparing Fish. Bethel, Alaska, 1990. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)
Eliza Chase Preparing Fish. Bethel, Alaska, 1990. (Photo: Jill Oakes © Bata Shoe Museum, 2016)

University of Manitoba researchers Rick Riewe and Jill Oakes first travelled to Alaska in the summer of 1989 on behalf of the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation. Visiting over fifteen different communities, they learned about hunting, fishing, skin preparation and bootmaking. Rick and Jill also developed important relationships with several seamstresses who contributed artifacts to the museum’s permanent collection. One such seamstress, Eliza Chase, created a pair of salmon-skin boots featured in our exhibit, Art and Innovation.

Through their archival research, Rick and Jill had learned about waterproof salmon skin boots, and they were eager to collect a pair for the museum. With its long coasts, as well as numerous lakes, marshes and islands, Alaska can have a very wet environmental landscape, particularly in the spring. For centuries, Inupiat and Yup’ik seamstresses resourcefully used natural materials such as fish skins to create warm and waterproof boots. By the end of the 20th century, fish skin boots had become increasingly rare in Alaska, as rubber gradually became more popular. Nevertheless, Rick and Jill remained determined to find a seamstress who still made these boots.

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.