Taft Museum of Art

Seymour Weitzman (1910–1965), designer, Mr. Seymour (founded 1950s), maker, Pointed-toe Lace-up Pumps, about 1964, suede and grosgrain ribbon, Stuart Weitzman Collection, no. 269.

CINCINNATI, OH – From silk boudoir shoes created for the 1867 Paris  Exposition to leather spectator pumps signed by the 1941 New York Yankees, Walk This Way  features more than 100 striking pairs of shoes. Organized by the New-York Historical Society,  the Taft Museum of Art will present this special exhibition from February 27 to June 6, 2021 in  the Taft’s Fifth Third Gallery. Spanning nearly 200 years, the historic footwear—from the  collection of high-fashion shoe designer Stuart Weitzman—will be on view for the first time in  the Midwest. 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.  

An integral part of our everyday lives, shoes not only protect our feet, but tell stories centered  around women’s labor activism, the fight for suffrage, and the sexual revolution. They also  serve as pathways toward discovering the vital role women and diverse historical narratives  played in both the production and consumption of footwear. In this exhibition, women take  center stage as the show explores a variety of shoes, including those worn by suffragists as  they marched through the streets, Jazz Age flappers as they danced the Charleston, and  starlets who graced the silver screen in the postwar era. Walk This Way features the footwear  designs of Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Beth Levine—the  “First Lady of Shoe Design”—as well as shoes by Stuart Weitzman himself.  

Walk This Way gives us incredible insight into the history of women’s footwear as well as  women’s active role in making history. Through an exploration of the shoes on display, guests  will learn about everything from women protesting for more equitable wages in the late 1800s to  shoes that showcase the rise of the first female designers and executives in the workforce.  Walk This Way also gives the Taft a chance to tell the story of shoemaking in Cincinnati, which  is an important part of the Queen City’s rich history.” — Dr. Ann Glasscock, assistant curator at  the Taft Museum of Art. 

Recently ranked by Forbes as a top exhibition to see nationwide in 2021, Walk This Way  considers the story of the shoe from the perspectives of collecting, presentation, consumption, production, and design. It explores larger trends in American economic history, from  industrialization to the rise of consumer culture, with a focus on women’s contributions as  makers, consumers, designers, and entrepreneurs.  

As Stuart Weitzman himself expresses in the exhibition catalog, shoes “tell an almost  infinite number of stories. Stories of conformity and independence, culture and class,  politics and performance.”  

EXHIBITION HIGHLIGHTS 

Among the many highlights in Walk This Way are shoes of historic value that have survived the  years to tell stories of the past. Examples include a pair of silk embroidered boudoir shoes  created especially for the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition as well as family heirlooms, such as  satin bridal slippers that also demonstrate the importance of collecting and preservation.  

The exhibition also features a number of shoes from the early 20th century, which witnessed a  revolution in the way women dressed, moved, and acted in public. 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.  

The country also saw a revolution in women’s political participation, when the fight for the vote  moved from the home to the streets. In New York City, hundreds of women marched down Fifth  Avenue in one of America’s first suffrage parades on May 21, 1910. Many suffragists wore  practical but stylish shoes, such as the leather and felt high-buttoned boots, spectator pumps,  and lace-up shoes on view in the exhibition.  

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. The fashion industry also partnered with Hollywood to create custom  shoes for motion pictures and celebrities—such as Salvatore Ferragamo’s 1950s heels with  handmade needlepoint lace designed for Italian actress Sophia Loren—which inspired  consumers to purchase similar styles to emulate their film idols.  

Walk This Way also 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, Ohio had become one of the largest manufacturers of  boots and shoes in the United States. A special exhibition showcase includes locally  made footwear and ephemera. 

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  like the Daughters of St. Crispin, named after the patron saint of shoemakers, and the  International Boot & Shoe Workers Union, participating in strikes to protest low wages and poor  treatment. Considered radical for its time, by 1904 the Boot & Shoe Workers Union constitution  called for “uniform wages for the same class of work, regardless of sex.” An intricately beaded  shoe stamped with the union seal, shows off the quality of American shoemaking.  

By the second half of the 20th century, women designers had made a significant impact but  were often hidden behind the scenes. The exhibition profiles Beth Levine (1914–2006)—the  “First Lady of Shoe Design”—who ran Herbert Levine, Inc., a company named for her husband  because “the name sounded like a shoemaker.” Levine introduced luxurious new materials and  innovative new designs like the “Spring-o-lator,” a strip of elastic tape to keep backless shoes  on the wearer’s feet.  

Also on view will be three unique 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. Lastly, the exhibition 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, which features the drag queen  Lola.  

SPECIAL PROGRAMMING 

Virtual Talk | The Art of Footwear Design

Online Program  

Thursday, February 18  

6:30–7:30 p.m.  

Join Claudia Rebola, Associate Dean for Research at the University of Cincinnati’s College  of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, for an hour-long exploration of the process of  shoe design. Learn the basics of footwear from experimental to commercial design. This is  a great opportunity to hear from a professional industrial designer!  

Virtual Talk | An Evening with the Weitzmans  

Online Program  

Thursday, March 4  

6:30–7:30 p.m.  

Join the Taft Museum of Art for an evening of shoes and stories with legendary designer Stuart  Weitzman, creator of the iconic Stuart Weitzman brand, and his wife, businesswoman and philanthropist Jane Gershon Weitzman. Hear the Weitzmans connect the beautiful shoes  displayed in the Walk This Way exhibition with highlights from their business ventures and  personal life. This special talk will be moderated by local fashion icon, Tamia Stinson—

founder of Tether, a community for creative image-makers, and founder of The Style Sample,  strategy and styling for creators.  

Virtual Tour | Walk This Way: The Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes  

Online Program  

Select Wednesdays  

12–12:30 p.m.  

Can’t make it to the museum? Take a docent-led virtual tour online. On select Wednesdays  you can experience a specially curated online tour. These tours are 30 minutes long and  require registration in advance.  

Digital Series | Who, What, Wear  

Online Program  

Airs at taftmuseum.org on March–June 2021  

Every shoe featured in Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of  Historic Shoes tells a story. Some reveal details about the maker or original owner, while others  get us to think about footwear designed to make a statement. The Taft will be asking this  question to some of Cincinnati’s fashion icons in our latest digital mini-series, Who, What,  Wear.  

PUBLICATION 

Walk This Way: Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes, published by  D Giles Limited, is available in the Museum Shop online and in-store. The book by Edward Maeder, with contributions by Stuart Weitzman and Valerie Paley, New-York Historical Society’s  senior vice president, chief historian, and director of the Center for Women’s History, features  180 illustrations, revealing the evolution of women’s footwear in parallel with changes in  women’s lives.  

EXHIBITION SUPPORT 

The Sutphin Family Foundation is the exhibition sponsor for Walk This Way: Footwear from the  Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes with additional support generously provided by the  Ellen and George Rieveschl Endowment, the Warrington Exhibition Endowment, the Chellgren  Family Endowment, and the Sallie Robinson Wadsworth Endowment for Exhibitions,  Hyperdrive, and Storyocity. Operating support is provided by the museum’s season funders  ArtsWave, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr. Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council; the  Western & Southern Financial Fund enables the museum to offer free admission every Sunday.  

ABOUT THE NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY 

The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated  to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal  the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York 

Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the  country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making  and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library,  one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation, containing more than ten million  books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural  drawings. It is one of only 20 libraries qualified to be a member of the Independent Research  Libraries Association. Visit nyhistory.org to learn more.


 

ABOUT THE TAFT MUSEUM OF ART 

The Taft Museum of Art is a living landmark tucked away in downtown Cincinnati, where art and  history live on the walls—and in the walls. Built around 1820 as a private home for several of  Cincinnati's most prominent citizens, the Taft Museum of Art is now one of the finest small art  museums in America and holds National Historic Landmark status for its historic house and Duncanson murals.  

Throughout our 2001–2004 expansion, guests can also always enjoy special exhibitions, the  historic outdoor garden, our Museum Shop and Lindner Family Café, events and programming  for all ages, and complimentary on-site parking. It is all under one roof, culminating in a one-of  a-kind, multi-sensory experience that puts you at the center of art and history.  

Media Contact:  

Sarah Ditlinger | Senior Manager, Marketing & Strategic Engagement  

sditlinger@taftmuseum.org | 317.507.4491  

taftmuseum.org | 316 Pike Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202