SHOES: Inside Out opens at The Arc, Winchester tomorrow. An exhibition filled from heel to toecap with frippery and history, this show brings the finest footwear held in Hampshire Cultural Trust’s collections to the well-trodden floors of The Gallery (well, safely on shelves, that is). Ahead of the opening, Exhibitions Assistant John Reed will take you behind the scenes with the team installing the show...
Opening at The Willis Museum & Sainsbury Gallery in Basingstoke in February, my first interaction with this show was also my introduction to the Hampshire Cultural Trust Collection. Hearing about the gigantic size of the collection, it was difficult to even comprehend what 2.5 million objects look like!
With the exhibition destined for Winchester, I was eager to help with the installation of the show in Basingstoke. Unpacking boxes for this show made the collection more tangible.
Pulling back the paper on the boots that once walked the Somme was incredible. This clearly presented itself as an overt treasure of the collection. Little work needs to be done to raise its profile in a historical sense. The leather straps and hobnails speak well for themselves. Standing to attention in the show, they have a real aura. These kinds of pieces ignite imaginations as much as they can prove repositories of knowledge themselves.
But it was not just the contents which impressed me with this show. It was all the care and diligence that went into preparations to display the footwear; the installation and the maintenance of the exhibition itself. This was the work of Conservators Ruth James and Claire Woodhead, Technician’s Mike Jones and Michael Wright, and, of course, master planners, writers and designers Tara McKinney Marinus, Claire Isbester and Tabitha Gunstone-Pollock. If I even tried to list all the things that they did to bring it all together, it would be a reductive mess!
Many hours were spent with those shoes getting them ready for the gallery and getting the gallery ready for the shoes. From sagging Moccasins to light sensitive silks to building secure shelves, plinths and more, this show presented - and still presents - a myriad of challenges.
This is what makes the exhibition so special and exceptional. To be able to show boots like those I handled all those months ago involves a rigorous process, one that balances the health of the objects with the need to facilitate greater engagement with them. There is nothing like seeing the real thing up close, and the exhibitions and collections team enable this in perpetuity.
SHOES: Inside Out runs until 6 March 2024 at The Gallery, The Arc, Winchester. Entrance is free and we’d appreciate your kind donation.