The Dilemmas of Collections Management

These ‘Duskdawn’ shoes were made in 1957, and are from the Skyline collection.

Pair women's blue/silver brocade/leather court shoes; Clarks Skyline 'Duskdawn', 1957

This image exemplifies the inevitable consequence of displaying our collection in a museum case.  Whilst the shoe on the right hand side has been held in a box away from any light, the shoe on the left has been on display in the museum, and has consequently sustained damage from the light used to illuminate it.  This is because light sources within the case can emit both light (visible radiation) and UV (ultraviolet radiation) which fades colorants, making the shoe lose its original colour.  Light sources can not only change the colour of organic materials such as this, but can also change the strength of textiles, making them weak, brittle, or disintegrate.

Keeping shoes stored away in improper conditions can however be damaging.  These ‘Brioni’ Sailmakers had been separated; one on display in the museum; the other, discovered as part of the digitisation project, packed away in an unsuitable box with degrading tissue paper.

Pair women's cream leather backless sandals held on by 2 bars crossing over; Clarks Sailmakers 'Brioni', 1966

It was a surprise to the team to discover that the discoloured and cracked shoe had not been on display in the museum, but had instead been packed away!  However through the digitisation project this sandal can now be more appropriately packaged and stored in humidity and temperature controlled environment.   By being digitised and properly packaged, the shoe collection can be accessed also through our Reading Room service, allowing engagement with shoes that cannot be achieved if they were in a museum.

There still needs to be a healthy balance between shoes put on display in a museum, and being stored away. Shoes on display in the museum can serve other purposes which can be difficult to achieve while packed away, for example education and entertainment.  By displaying various shoes alongside each other, they can work together to visually teach us about their evolution throughout history.  They are also visually appealing to their audience; looking at real historical shoes can provide a genuine experience which cannot be replicated by simply looking at a picture of them in a book.

There can be downsides to keeping our shoes in glass cases, but compromises can be made.  The purpose of keeping collections such as the shoe collection is to facilitate access; the museum is an excellent way to enable this.

%d bloggers like this: