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The Art Exhibition That May Knock Your Socks Off

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The Art Exhibition That May Knock Your Socks Off

Art & Design

The Art Exhibition That May Knock Your Socks Off

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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You probably don't think a lot about your socks until you lose one or need to replace one or you pine for your favorite pair when you happen to be under the weather. They're basically a fashion utility item. Well, now they're also the subject of a new exhibition in Toronto. If you're heading up that way anytime in the next year, you might want to pull up to the Bata Shoe Museum.

We called on curator Elizabeth Semmelhack to help us sort out what's on display. Why socks, of all things?

Ms. ELIZABETH SEMMELHACK (Curator, Bata Shoe Museum): Well, socks are this seemingly humble part of our everyday wardrobe and so I thought it was sort of high time to investigate them.

NORRIS: Well, give us a few of the highlights from the exhibit.

Ms. SEMMELHACK: I begin the exhibit by looking at replica of the Otzi man's shoe. When the Otzi man was found - he was the Iceman who was found in the Alps - he was wearing very complex shoes and then stuffed between his feet and his shoes was a bunch of grass. And it turns out that many people around the world before the invention of knitting or even weaving and sewing, they would stuff grass into their shoes or boots as a means of wicking away moisture and adding a bit of comfort to their everyday going about.

NORRIS: This is really sort of like sock anthropology and also a lot to do with history, you have the socks that Napoleon Bonaparte wore when he was in exile, is that correct?

Ms. SEMMELHACK: That is correct. Napoleon, when he passed, all his belongings that he had with him on St. Helena were packed up and his surgeon received a pair of his socks. And that's the provenance for the pair that we have on view at the museum.

NORRIS: Queen Victoria's socks are also on display, pale pink stockings.

Ms. SEMMELHACK: Theyre very, very pale pink, so they probably date to early in her reign. After the death of her husband, Prince Albert, she began to wear only black. It's also included in the exhibition, sock trends, if you think of bobby socks in the late '40s and '50s. I have a pair in the exhibit that still has a tag in them that says: As advertised in Life magazine. And of course I have the ubiquitous toe socks from the '70s.

NORRIS: Tube socks?

Ms. SEMMELHACK: We have a sock puppet theater and a number of these piles of socks are included in that section.

NORRIS: Which came first the shoe or the sock?

Ms. SEMMELHACK: Well, I actually spent quite a bit of time trying to define for myself what a sock was. And I decided that a sock was something that came between you and your shoe. So, it's a pretty simple answer, I would argue it was the shoe that came first.

NORRIS: Elizabeth Semmelhack, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Ms. SEMMELHACK: No problem.

NORRIS: That's curator Elizabeth Semmelhack of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. She was speaking to us about the exhibit "Socks: Between You and Your Shoes."

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