June 7, 2018 By michael
WHEN I CALL ADA HOPKINS to talk about shoes, I’m a little embarrassed to tell her what’s on my feet: mangled rubber soles, a synthetic leather upper groaning at the seams, a vamp crusty with salt and road grime. Hopkins suggests a quick rinse with vinegar and water. “This is not a conservation suggestion,” she says, laughing. “This is just a what-I-do-at-home suggestion.”
I trust it, because Hopkins knows her shoe stuff. For around three decades she’s worked as a conservator at Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum, which collects and showcases footwear spanning thousands of years.
The Museum’s new show, The Gold Standard, offers gilt sandals, slippers, and strappy numbers from all over the globe. There is ecclesiastical footwear from ancient Egypt, a pair of velvet-and-lace chopines from 16th-century Italy, and, from China, intricately embroidered booties designed for bound feet. Getting such diverse materials prepped for display was a kind of conservation tour de force. Atlas Obscuraspoke with Hopkins about tricky repairs, entropy, and what happens when chintzy materials have a meltdown.
When something is initially received into the museum, it’s looked at by the curator and myself. We examine the items to see what the condition is. If we have pest issues, they tend to be moths on wool and silk. I haven’t had to deal with beetle infestations, like in wood. If [a pair has] moths, we ask for permission to freeze them.
If they’re accepted into the collection and there are loose elements, they’re put into a container so those elements stay together. Then they’re catalogued by the collections manager, and then they come back to me. I look at them and determine if they’re going to really rapidly deteriorate, or if they can sit on a shelf and wait for a better time.