V256: My First Shoe

No, this isn’t about baby shoes, but the first shoe I ever designed and made (with my own bare hands!), back in 2001, in my first university art class, Art 100, taught by Howard Rosenburg, at the University of Nevada, Reno.

My shoe has traveled around with me since, but only recently did I come across the original drawings for it, so I thought it would be fun to share, considering that, oddly enough, I ended up making shoes as a career.  Howard, I hope you’re proud 🙂

I remember the project so clearly – our assignment was to make a shoe, but as an “art object,” so the shoe didn’t need to be wearable, and we were encouraged to use unexpected materials.  I, of course, used completely expected materials, which didn’t win me any accolades.  Where other students made their shoes out of melted CDs and beef, I went for wood and leather.

My original design was a Viking shoe, with the wooden heel carved as a lion-ish-dragon-ish head.  I used basswood from the craft store to carve the heel and footbed all in one, and acquired more than one scar trying to work the wood with hand tools.  I switched to a Dremmel tool to finish the lion’s head, which worked *wonders* (if you’re ever doing any wood carving, I highly recommend it), and applied a dark wood stain.

The problem was, well, Howard and the two other professors critiquing the in-progress shoes absolutely hated it.  I was critted (crat?) into a trembling ball of nerves, and ended up taking the design in a completely new direction after one of the profs said the head I’d carved looked like a Chinese fu dog, not a Viking lion-dragon-thing.

Following that thought, I re-worked the shoe into its final form, with Chinese silk sandal straps, black rabbit fur in the footbed, and a whole lot of antiquey-gold-leafy-stuff I found at the craft store.  At the final critique, I was still hammered (while, oddly enough, the shoe made out of whipped cream was fawned over), but in the end I got an A, and have kept my first shoe ever since, whereas I doubt the beef sandal and the whipped cream stiletto continued to exist much past the end of that day, eleven years ago. 🙂


  • Anonymous

    September 12, 2012 at 6:06 PM

    I think your shoe looks like something that would have been worn in an Elizabeth Taylor film about ancient China! Your wood carving skills far surpass mine. I never much cared for college art class because of the same problems you encountered. I ended up completely ignoring any and all critiques and directions on my assignments and doing as I darned well pleased, grades be hanged! After that, I was suddenly hailed as a genius (though not as genius as the kid who did a performance piece by hanging fish hooks from his skin. Bleck!). Funny the way art critics work.

    • Lauren R

      September 14, 2012 at 5:43 AM

      omg OUCH! fishhooks!? yikes. Yeah, if I'm honest, my two years doing the fine artsy stuff at UNR were, erm…not great, but I transferred to an insanely awesome and technical program at San Jose State after that – we didn't make shoes in that program, though, lol

  • Sandi

    September 12, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    That's pretty much the reason I opted not to go to art school like all my high school friends (I was going to go for photography). I figured I'd learn just as much on my own and without the crippling anxiety brought on by critique. As it turns out, photography is NOT my passion, and it all worked out for the best. I'm glad it worked out in the end for you, too.

    • Lauren R

      September 14, 2012 at 5:44 AM

      Yeah, crits can be rough. It's a double-edged sword – you want them to be, well, helpfully critical, but at the same time, having work ripped off the wall and torn into pieces in front of the entire class isn't really, erm, a great experience…or very helpful, lol!

  • Gwenyver

    September 12, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    Art teachers can be such a pain. They tell you to express yourself, and then they put you down for not being more like other students who are more "artsy" in their definition (this from someone who studied arts in College and University). I think it is a fine shoe; it is a wearable work of art, instead of being a work of art in the shape of something you should be able to wear but can't.

  • KittyKatt

    September 13, 2012 at 1:03 AM

    I have to confess, I had roughly the same experience in University art school…my ideas were just too way gone for the average artist to get a handle on. "Booble Bath" was my piece de resistance and featured lots o' life cast ceramic boobies in an actual claw foot tub. They hated it, and failed me for the one credit I needed to graduate. I ended up taking the credit at another school with another instructor who was far more interested in my work. I think that in spite of it all I probably learned more coloring outside the lines than any other kid who stuck with the official program. I love your shoe – it is a lighthouse to your current career, and a fine piece of work.

  • History Girl

    September 13, 2012 at 2:37 AM

    My critiques in high school and college art were similar to yours-my teacher even dared give me a B in my last class and I fought with him until he gave me an A. I think that overall instructors like to see that you have passion about something, and you definitely had more passion than a meat shoe would show.

    • Lauren R

      September 14, 2012 at 5:46 AM

      I think you're right – they want to see that you care, at least. I think with this project, in the end, after, like you, arguing my way through the final, I got the good grade because I was passionate about it, or maybe because I had taken the other professors advice? I'll never know, haha

  • MAD

    September 14, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    This may be incredibly strange, but my mother went to UNR to study Art History back in the mid and late nineties and she used to take me with her to her classes. Even though I was a little kid, I REMEMBER Howard Rosenberg. Mostly because he used to ridicule and belittle my mom in front of the whole class for having to bring her three kids with her all the time.
    What a jerk.
    I love the shoe, by the way.

    • Lauren R

      September 14, 2012 at 5:41 AM

      Oh dear! Howard can be prickly, but also lovable sometimes. I haven't seen him in quite a long while now. He was tough on me, too, but never about things beyond my control. Sounds pretty out of line!

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