Last week, while looking at the beautifully embroidered Lotus Shoes in Vortexhibition Polyphonica, I had the pleasure of talking with Henry’s Curator of Collections, Judy Sourakli, who told me some strange and cool things about these small wonders. These are the shoes that were made for women with bound feet. Yes, the painful disfiguring cruel practice where young girls’ feet were bound with yards of cloth to stop them from growing so that they would achieve the extraordinarily tiny lotus foot. Weird and curious. Their toes and bones break over time with binding and the foot sort of ends up resembling a hoof. BUT, the cool fact I learned, was about the shoes themselves, and particularly the heel of the more exquisite and expensive Lotus Shoes. There was a hidden built-in chamber inside the heel that contained a fine white powder. Then on the bottom of the heel was a stencil, usually a lotus flower, which was a symbol for summer, purity, and fruitfulness. Then each time the woman wearing the shoe took a small painful step, a subtle fine white stencil was left on the ground behind her. So very delicate. Along with the stencil on the heel, the bottom of the shoes were often times embroidered. Since upper-class, Lotus Shoe-wearing women spent their days sitting with their feet up, it was important that the bottom of the shoes be just as attractive as the sides. A strange custom with a long history and a fascinating story indeed.
Search these shoes and others in the Henry Collections here.