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The Shoe Project.

In 1993, award-winning fashion designer Samuele Mazza organized a unique exhibition in Italy. Well-known artists from around the world were invited to create works of art inspired by a shoe. Although the subject of the exhibition was a functional object, artists were urged to create a shoe unhampered by the functionality of design. The book entitled Cinderella's Revenge, documents Mazza's studies about the concept of the shoe and the resulting exhibition. It was this that inspired The Shoe Project for my eighth-grade Design Arts class.

Linda O'Keeffe provides a more in depth historical perspective with a whimsical approach in her book Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers and More. This resource, as well as Cinderalla's Revenge, was valuable in presenting this unit to my students.

Students began the Shoe Project by examining the styles and various materials used throughout history to create shoes. Changes in fashion, customs, and cultures, as well as social and political events, dictated styles of shoes. From fancy to sensible, shoes are designed to be worn and protect our feet. This assignment, however, asked students to disregard the functionality of the form and create a shoe that is fine art. Students discussed references, mythologies, backgrounds, themes, and ideals that could be attached to a shoe. This was their opportunity to design the unique, the bizarre, and the unpredictable while maintaining the illusion of a shoe.

Students were given the option of beginning their nonfunctional sculptural shoe by starting with a real shoe or developing their own shoe form. Old shoes from home and resale shops offered a reference from which to start for many. The directions stated that "you may cut, tear, add, delete, sew glue--whatever!" Options for materials included clay, sequins, beads, laces, fabrics, felt, paper, cardboard, wire, buckles, buttons, feathers, shells, pebbles, rocks, wood, sticks, markers, paint, rope, yarn, raffia, cans, plastic, magazines, newspapers, and more.

To help the students with the invention of their idea, visual slide resources created from Cinderella's Revenge were organized into four separate themes. Students were asked to brainstorm an idea under each theme.

The themes were:

1. Select an artist or a famous person for inspiration and create a shoe tribute. For example, can you picture a van Gogh shoe?

2. Begin with a theme from literature, mythology, politics, etc. A famous line from a story, song, or literature could also be used. For example, "A kiss is just a kiss." or "Keep off the grass."

3. Create a sculptural visual pun or play on words. (Cinderella's Revenge offers a lot of this theme). For example, "Shoe Shine," "Sole," "Foot Loose," or "Desert Storm."

4. Turn a shoe into an animal or concept from a noun. For example, "The Real Macaw," "Fish," "Piano," "Shipwrecked," or "Roots."

This project was given as a homework assignment. After the initial introduction and brainstorming session of possible solutions, students had two weeks to create their concept, a thumbnail drawing, and a list of possible materials needed for their creations. On the designated due date, we held a seminar-style roundtable discussion where students shared their efforts. This proved to be very valuable. Other students eagerly offered additional embellishment ideas and thoughts about the means of construction. Students were only allowed to use available artroom materials for the assignment.

The next deadline followed two weeks later with a major "show and tell" session as excited students shared their delightful shoe creations. An entire class period was devoted to the sharing process. Students also had to complete an artist statement answering the following questions:

1. What was the theme of this piece? Write a statement detailing the thought behind the work. You may describe the concept in terms of one of the four shoe themes presented with the lesson (and handout).

2. How do the materials you selected enhance your shoe concept?

3. Do you think you were successful in communicating your idea visually? Would a stranger viewing your artwork understand your idea?

4. If you were to begin this assignment again, what part would you do differently?

The evaluation scale--1 (low) to 4 (high)--was based on the following criteria:

1. Amount of effort and time spent developing the idea;

2. Creativity and originality of idea

3. Artistry with the materials selected;

4. Quality of the work, care and time spent with the artwork;

5. Maintain the illusion of the shoe;

6. Level of challenge the student felt with the assignment.


Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics to communicate intended meaning in artworks.

Karen Watson-Newlin is an art teacher at Verona Area Middle School in Verona, Wisconsin.
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Title Annotation:art class project
Author:Watson-Newlin, Karen
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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