WORTH THE DRIVE: 100 pairs of shoes — with fascinating stories — on exhibit in Cincinnati

‘Walk this Way’ at the Taft museum goes beyond fancy footwear

—It has been rated by Forbes as “a top exhibition to see nationwide in 2021.”

“Walk This Way,” a collection of beautiful and historic shoes, will be on display at the Taft Museum in Cincinnati through June 6. This is the first time it’s being shown in the Midwest and you can see it both in person and through a virtual tour online.

Shoe designer Stuart Weitzman and his wife have loaned their personal collection of shoes to the New York Historical Society, which has organized a traveling exhibit that features one-third of the couple’s 300-shoe collection. Weitzman’s wife, businesswoman and philanthropist Jane Gershon Weitzman, formed and added to the collection as a gift to her husband over their 50 years of marriage.

This show isn’t simply a collection of 100 elegant shoes, but also tells the story of shoe production and consumption. Spanning nearly 200 years, the shoes you’ll see range from hand-embroidered silk boudoir shoes created for the 1867 Paris Exposition to leather spectator pumps signed by 27 members of the 1941 New York Yankees and owned by Joe DiMaggio’s one-time girlfriend. There are wedding shoes, stilted bath clogs worn by Islamic women, and pointe shoes worn by dancer Heather Watts of the New York City Ballet.

You’ll also see the work of well-known designers — Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Beth Levine, the “First Lady of Shoe Design” — as well as shoes by Stuart Weitzman himself. The Weitzmans will be featured at a Zoom event on March 4.

The oldest shoes in the exhibit are a pair of satin wedding slippers created in 1838. The most recent pair were designed by Weitzman for Broadway’s “Cinderella” in 2013.

“Shoes tell an almost infinite number of stories,” says Weitzman in the exhibition catalog. “Stories of conformity and independence, culture and class, politics and performance.”

Meet the Taft curator

Ann Glasscock, assistant curator at the Taft, was in the midst of arranging shoes for the exhibit when we spoke and walked through the exhibit via Facetime. She says shoes earn their place at an art museum because shoes are works of art.

“So many of the shoes in this exhibit are so much more than practical shoes you wear on your feet,” she pointed out. “Although these shoes on display were indeed worn, they are objects of desire and display made by highly skilled craftspeople.”

The emphasis in this exhibit is on women and the ways shoes reflected their labor activism, the fight for suffrage and the sexual revolution. “Several pairs of shoes and boots in the exhibit were worn in the late 19th century as women were fighting for the right to vote,” Glasscock explains. “It was a time when respectable women were rarely seen in public without a male companion. These shoes are restricting, tightly buttoned or laced — much like the lives of the women who wore these shoes and didn’t have a lot of freedom.”

In contrast, the shoes on display from the ’60s and ’70s reveal how much more freedom women had gained. “These shoes — like platform shoes — elevate women,” Glasscock says. “Unlike the Victorian era when, heaven forbid, you should see a woman’s ankle, there are see-through shoes that bare all!”

Glasscock’s personal favorite is a pair of Victorian silk lace-up boots. “I love the Victorian period and these shoes are stunning!” she says. “They’re made from a luxurious brocade fabric and incorporate a floral design and metallic thread. They are absolutely wonderful.”

As the floor-length gowns of the late 1800s gradually gave way to the shorter skirts and slim silhouettes of the Jazz Age, women’s feet became a new focal point. Dance halls flourished, and manufacturers produced intricately beaded evening shoes with buttoned straps that kept shoes secure while women danced the tango or the Charleston.

You’ll view shoes from the fashion industry which partnered with Hollywood to create custom shoes for motion pictures and celebrities, inspiring consumers to purchase similar styles to emulate their film idols. One example is Salvatore Ferragamo’s 1950s heels with handmade needlepoint lace designed for Italian actress Sophia Loren. Another is a pair of translucent pink shoes that belonged to Ginger Rogers who partnered with Fred Astaire in 10 Depression-era romantic musicals.

The shoes on display were originally made in America or Europe and intended to be worn. The dawn of department stores at the turn of the century created a place of leisure for affluent women and employment opportunities for working women, so retailers began to compete for customers with colorful advertisements and celebrity endorsements. Stores like Saks Fifth Avenue offered glamorous shoes, like red velvet and gold T-strap pumps or peep-toe mules with clear Lucite heels.

Glasscock is hoping many will take advantage of the unique exhibit. " I think people are itching to get back out and the Taft is a safe place to go,” she says. “Looking at beautiful objects and art is something people need right now.”

Other attractions

  • Did you know that shoemaking was an important part of the Queen City’s history? The show explores the process of shoemaking, examining shoe production and the role of women in the footwear field — one of the first industries to embrace large-scale mechanization. By 1850, shoemaking was America’s second-largest industry after agriculture and by the end of the century, Cincinnati had become one of the largest manufacturing sites. In the early 1900s, when women made up less than 20 percent of the total industrial workforce, one-third of the workers in shoe factories were women. Women became active in trade unions.
  • On view are three shoe designs by finalists in the Stuart Weitzman Footwear Design competition, submitted by New York metro-area high school students in the categories of socially conscious fashion or material innovation.
  • The show also includes several items from the New York Historical Society’s collection, such as a pair of pumps by Mabel Julianelli, considered “America’s No. 1 shoe designer for women” in 1940, and a pair of red high-heeled boots from the hit Broadway musical “Kinky Boots.”
  • The Museum Shop at the Taft is always filled with lovely gifts. In addition to the illustrated exhibit catalog, the shop is stocking shoe Christmas ornaments, Walk This Way mugs, shoe puzzles and adult coloring books, hats and scarves.


What: “Walk This Way,” Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes. Organized by the New York Historical Society.

Where: Taft Museum of Art, 316 Pike St., Cincinnati

When: Through June 6. The Museum is open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday with special hours for vulnerable guests. On Fridays, vulnerable guests are admitted from 11 a.m. to noon and general admission is from noon to 4 p.m. On Saturdays, vulnerable guests are admitted from 11 a.m. to noon with general visitors admitted from noon to 5 p.m. a.m. On Sundays, the museum is open to the general public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tickets: Timed tickets are required and available online. Adults are $10, seniors $8, free for youth, active military and members. (Those who have a Dayton Art Institute membership at the $150 or above level have reciprocal membership at Taft.)

Virtual tour: Take a 30-minute docent-led virtual tour online starting at noon on select Wednesdays. These tours require advance registration and are $5 for non-members, free for members.

Virtual talk: An hour-long online talk with Stuart and Jane Weitzman is slated for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 4. The couple will share personal stories of the shoes displayed in the exhibition. The event is $5 for non-members, free for members.

More info: www.taftmuseum.org

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