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Step right up - Kitsap County Historical Museum's new exhibit examines shoes as historical artifacts

Kitsap Historical Museum Curator Scott Bartlett takes a break Tuesday while setting up the museum’s latest exhibit, “Made for Walkin’,” a presentation of footwear as historical artifact. - staff photo
Kitsap Historical Museum Curator Scott Bartlett takes a break Tuesday while setting up the museum’s latest exhibit, “Made for Walkin’,” a presentation of footwear as historical artifact.
— image credit: staff photo

They say you won’t know what it is like until you walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes.

But with some shoes, like a pair of high-heeled, pointy-toed lace-ups going on display at the Kitsap Historical Museum’s new exhibit “Made for Walkin’,” don’t look designed for human feet.

From the humongous kicks of a basketball star, to the spiked, cork boots of lumberjacks, the array of footwear at the exhibit, opening Friday and running into September, chronicles not only the life and times of wearers through the past century, but documents the ups and downs of Kitsap residents as seen from the ground up.

“With shoes you definitely see the arc of culture,” said Curator Scott Bartlett. Additionally, they are items everybody can relate to.

For museum board member and volunteer Gary Beanland, of Port Orchard, it’s the intimacy of the exhibit that makes it interesting.

“These are so personal to everyone, whether a general or a private, everybody has shoes,” Beanland said. “It tells a lot about a person.”

Included in the exhibit are the imposing cork boots worn by loggers, with sharp spikes sticking out of the sole to ensure a secure grip when bounding between logs in a mill pond, as well as combat boots recently worn overseas.

Then there are the shoes with a name attached, from the leather wing tips from Bremerton’s civil rights pioneer Loxie Eagens, to the monstrous Reeboks in Atlanta Hawks red which were worn, and signed, by Bremerton native and NBA power forward Marvin Williams.

Famous footwear aside, most examples are the shoes worn by average people, however painful it was. And reflected in the craftsmanship, and design, are stories about the times.

For instance, during World War II, when people could not just walk into a store to buy a new pair of loafers — ration tickets were needed to buy shoes, but curiously, not clogs — people cleaned, polished and repaired their shoes.

“You took care of your stuff,” Bartlett said, as opposed to today, when once a pair wears out, or falls out of fashion, they get tossed or relegated to the back of the closet.

The exhibit also includes information on shoe manufacturing, with machines borrowed from cobbler shops.

Bartlett’s focus has brought with it accolades. Two recent museum exhibits, “Mosquitos in Kitsap,” about mosquito fleet boats, and “Spanning the Great Peninsula: Bridges of Kitsap,” will be honored with the Washington Museum Association’s Award of Exhibit Excellence in June.

The museum’s next exhibit, to open in October, is called “Boozing in Kitsap,” and will explore the effects of prohibition, manufacturing as well as the negative effects of alcohol.

Bartlett’s exhibits are designed to take a closer, more intimate look at the past. And the exhibits tend to be a departure from the typical characters of history such as presidents, generals, famous artists and focus on aspects of life experienced by everyone. It’s a philosophical shift toward examining what is extraordinary about the ordinary.

“It’s history written by the everyman, not just what is written by presidents,” he said. “These are just people’s shoes, but they add up.”

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