LEWISTON — This spring, Museum L-A’s gallery will be filled to the brim with shoes for its newest exhibit, “Footwear: From Function to Fashion.” The exhibit will explore the whimsy and artfulness that shoe designs have played with for decades to acknowledge that shoes, while primarily used as an underappreciated functional item, can be masterpieces in their own right.

A certain focus will be placed on the extensive history of the shoe industry in Auburn, once the fifth largest producers of footwear in the country, through a timeline representing the ebb and flow of the local companies historically making shoes in the community.

Since its conception, Museum L-A has been dedicated to representing and honoring the industries and workers that are a part of Lewiston-Auburn history. Through the museum’s work collecting oral histories, curating portrait exhibits and hosting reunions, it became clear that the workers were often the unsung heroes of the community’s stories.

With an impressive history in the shoe industry often rivaling the textile production over the river, Auburn has proven to embody a strong community based on creativity, ingenuity and hard work.

This exhibit is Museum L-A’s next step in the progression of telling this industry’s story — this time focusing on the product that was being created by the millions right in this little corner of Maine while also creating an opportunity to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the City of Auburn, 1869-2019.

The exhibit’s curator, Christine McDowell, is an associate professor of theater at Bates College, specializing in costume and scenic design. A large portion of her education — procured throughout the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and at the Yale School of Drama — has been devoted to the study of costume history.

“My involvement in this exhibit was a stroke of serendipity. I was already involved as a volunteer on the Museum L-A Exhibition Committee and when the idea was raised to curate an exhibit on the artistry and process of shoemaking, I knew I could finally put my collection of shoes to good use,” she said. McDowell has been collecting shoes as fascinating objects of material culture since the 1980s.

A small selection of the over 200 pairs of shoes that will be on exhibit in Museum L-A’s gallery space.

 

“The goal is to create an experience that will allow visitors to learn a little something about how shoes are made and fashion trends that have changed shoes over time, all while reflecting on the rich shoe heritage we have here in our local community,” Emma Sieh, Museum L-A’s collections and exhibits coordinator, explained. “What we wear on our feet can sometimes be forgotten in the grand scheme of our daily lives, but they are still an important part of our social history.”

The public is invited to attend the free opening reception for the exhibit from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 29. Throughout the evening, visitors will be able to explore the exhibit and speak with the guest curator who helped put it all together, while having light refreshments.

“Footwear: From Function to Fashion” will be on display in the Museum L-A gallery from March 30 to Dec. 31. Throughout the duration of the exhibit, shoe-related programming hosted by Museum L-A will be available for the public to attend, including a fun shoe fashion show and historical walking tours.

Museum L-A is located in the Bates Mill Complex at 35 Canal St. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Special tour requests and large group tours outside of these hours are available by appointment.

For more information, contact [email protected] or call 207-333-3881.