While touring inside the old Knaut-Rhuland House in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, I saw an old shoe displayed, along with this note:
While repairing a wall in the house, they had found the hidden shoe.
I knew about this practice, but this was the first time I had actually seen such an artifact. I was delighted! Years earlier, when I first learned about hidden shoes, I constructed this:
Hidden in the Walls 42"h x 29"w.....NOT one of my more successful pieces. The shiny surface makes it impossible to photograph this visual muddle. What I was trying to do is show a connection between the way bodies shape shoes and corsets shape bodies, and the implied bodies being used as magic talismans. A closer look:
This is an old corset, with all the lacings to pull it tight. Some of the other white lines in this piece are the stays.
There are knitted baby booties, as well as sections of leather baby shoes.
'babies in the foundations'?!? In ancient Carthage, there was a practice of burying babies in the foundations of buildings, and it's possible that the shoes are a substitute for living people. When repairing very old buildings, they have also found clothing, dried out cats and horse skulls.
Anyhow, that's the story behind this piece. Looking at it now, I want it rip it all apart and re-do it, make it work. The combination of the corset (did you know that they used to have maternity corsets?) and the baby shoes could be visually powerful, could be a statement on the expendability of women and children.
Most sane people probably stopped reading this when I got to the part about babies.....but here's more information copied pretty directly from Wikipedia, if you're interested:
Several theories have been advanced to account for the incorporation of shoes into the fabric of a building, one of which is that they served as some kind of fertility charm. There is a long-standing connection between shoes and fertility, perhaps exemplified by the nursery rhyme, "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe", and the custom of casting a shoe after a bride as she leaves for her honeymoon or attaching shoes to the departing couple's car. Archaeologist Ralph Merrifield has observed that in the English county of Lancashire women who wished to conceive might try on the shoes of a woman who had just given birth, a custom known as smickling.
Another theory, and the one favored by most scholars, argues that shoes were concealed to protect against evil influences such as demons, ghosts, witches, and familiars. Witches were believed to be attracted by the human scent of a shoe, and after entering one found themselves trapped, as they are unable to reverse. Merrifield has suggested that an unofficial 14th-century English saint, John Schorne, may have been the source of the belief that shoes had the power to protect against evil.
Architectural historian M. Chris Manning has proposed that the immurement of shoes may be related to the belief in a household deity found throughout northern Europe. According to Manning, Schorne's use of a shoe to capture or repel a troublesome spirit may have called upon an existing belief in the power of shoes to attract, repel, or "lay" such spirits. The brownie and hob, domestic fairies found in England and Scotland, could be driven off by a gift of clothing. (remember the character Dobby, in Harry Potter, who was freed by the gift of a sock?) In Russia, it was said that the domovoi, a helpful domestic spirit, could be attracted to a home with an old boot or bast shoe placed under the stove or hung in the yard.
Thirteen of the shoes in Swann's analysis (only a small fraction of the thousands of concealed shoes reported worldwide) were buried in the foundations of a building. She has alluded to a possible connection with the Carthaginian practice of putting human babies in the foundations of their buildings, and suggested that the shoes may have acted as a substitute for the person.
The custom of concealing shoes in the fabric of a building appears to have more or less died out some time during the 20th century, although not entirely. The shoe manufacturer Norvic incorporated a pair of their women's high-leg boots in the foundations of their new factory built in 1964, and an even more recent account comes from Knebworth House, where in 1991 an estate worker's shoe replaced an "old court shoe" that had been discovered behind some panelling. Nevertheless, only 50 post-1900 instances of concealed shoes have been recorded.
My house was built in the 1930's. We bought it from an old German woman who had lived here for many years. As I pulled off ugly wallpaper and scrubbed away decades of dust, I found coins lined on top of every window frame. These tiny ceramic animals were on top of the exposed window frame in the attic.
One more thing. If you read to the end of that Knaut-Rhuland House note, you may be wondering what a Lunenberg Bump is.
The Lunenberg Bump is that odd protrusion over the front door, inflicted here on a helpless little Cape Cod. If you're an architecture addict, you would love Lunenberg. The strict square layout of this small town holds an abundance of styles and mismatches!
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