Ours is not a high brow family. My kids don’t usually volunteer to attend classical concerts or art exhibits, but with the right incentive they will attend willingly. Shoe art exhibits are usually sufficient draw as silly, fun, whimsical shoes easily capture their imagination.
Given that, I have been wondering why we left the Albany Institute of Art & History’s two shoe exhibits, The Perfect Fit and Old Soles, feeling strangely unsatisfied.
Partly, it may be that our original plans fell through. I had signed up my son for the Superhero Shoes Homeschool Family Program where students would explore how “shoes give us power and protect us, participants will design a shoe that might give someone superhuman powers.” Unfortunately, the program was cancelled due to insufficient participants.
Instead, we dropped by without a program, and toured the exhibit on our own. At the entrance, we picked up the scavenger hunt brochure for children, thinking that it would give us some insight into what were seeing. However, it only told the story behind one pair of shoes. When my kids saw the pencil work (matching terms and crosswords), the brochure promptly disappeared never to be seen again.
Don’t get me wrong. The shoes in The Perfect Fit exhibit were very cool. The kids were intrigued by a number of unusual shoes and a reconfigured sewing machine with a hanging shoe that went clackity clack when they turned the wheel.
It’s just that we wanted more.
A few years back, we visited The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto where we saw an exhibit illustrating 4,500 years of “footwear: its evolution, uses over time, methods and materials of manufacture, and its place in our lives and imaginations.” The exhibit was highly educational, but it was fun too. There were multiple hands on activities, including a chance to try on unique footwear like the pair platform sneakers.
Later, we crossed town to the Ontario Science Center where they happened to have a science of footwear exhibit going on that was a perfect tie in to the shoe experience. We saw a display showcasing the most technologically advanced materials, and another explaining shoe construction. The highlight of the entire experience was a station where you could use recycled materials such as corrugated board and other found objects to create your own shoes that would then be displayed in the museum.
It would be difficult to top the Toronto shoe museum experience, and certainly not when you compare a traveling exhibit to an entire museum devoted to shoes. However, I would have liked to see more of an interdisciplinary approach with the Albany Institute’s exhibits, as well as some hands on stations to make it more educational and relevant to kids.
Regardless, the exhibit is well worth taking your children to see. I’d just recommend following it up with an opportunity for the kids to design and construct their own shoes.
Where to go:
125 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12210