Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy 15th Birthday, Bata!

the beautiful Bata Museum insignia, deeply etched on the curved glass surround of the front revolving door

the museum's bold, classic logo in a style reminiscent of early 20th century graphics
Raymond Moriyama's award winning design for the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada

Happy 15th Birthday, Bata!

This May, the Bata Shoe Museum of Toronto was officially 15 years old. It was 5 years in the planning, and after several difficulties and delays, it was opened on May 6, 1995.

The Bata is one of the most important shoe museums in the world, and it is a cultural treasure for Toronto. Some of their wonderful surplus has gone to other venerable and prestigious museums such as the Victoria and Albert.

The Bata is in a choice location on the southwest corner of Boor and St. George, surrounded by other buildings of interesting architecture such as the York Club, and the neoclassical style medical arts building across the street from it. Accessible by subway, it is near the ROM and the Gardiner Ceramics Museum, Yorkville, and it absorbs some of the atmosphere of academia where it is convenient for researchers from nearby University of Toronto.

the stately, richly detailed, late 19th century York Club, on the north east corner, opposite the Bata Museum

the Bata Museum seen from the manicured lawns of the historic York Club

Mrs. Bata’s attention to detail is evident in the superb custom bronze door handle medallions used on entrance and gallery doors, the reverse relief/ intaglio shoe carved in the stone facing beside the front entrance, the interesting prismatic glass appliqué on 42 foot high soaring the central hall window by Lutz Haufschild, and copper cladding on the jutting front entrance. These details go far to lend nobility, humanity, and elegance to the modern architecture and give the museum the aspect of a continental boutique museum. Mrs. Bata's European heritage has given her an acute awareness and appreciation for the craftsmanship of special artisans and ateliers.
the reverse-relief, carved. stylised shoe design and patinated bronze lettering beside the front entrance

a circa 1730 tin glaze blue delft decorative shoe from Holland painted with tulips detail of the hall window showing coloured glass appliques, reminds one of Matisse paper cut outs
shapes suggest pieces of cut out leather before a shoe is assembled
the applied, diagonally set flat prisms of the 42ft hall window softly screen out neighbouring buildings

detail of precision custom welding in the angled windows of the front entrance

the dramatically angled front entrance on the south side of Bloor Street

f ront entrance seen from the light flooded vestibule

front entrance facing west on Bloor Street

f ront vestibule area with detail of plate glass railings that contribute to a bright, spacious feeling

Recently, I enjoyed viewing a very interesting interview by George Stroumboulopoulos on CBC's "The Hour", December 3, 2008. He asked the charming Mrs. Bata about starting the museum and if her family considered it a bad idea. Mrs. Bata said that her son in particular considered a museum a big liability, and when she said she agreed, she laughed light-heartedly. The tone of her voice made it apparent that it was a labour of love that had brought her great personal satisfaction. In the interview, when asked about how the museum collection began she said,

“It started because when I got married I wanted to be an architect and then my husband really wanted me as a member of the team, and as I like design, I started working with collections, and merchandising. We were expanding into Africa and the far East and Latin America. I was very curious to find out what type of shoes do people really wear in these countries, what’s the traditional footwear like, and so it was really a market research collection. This is how it started. And then there were other reasons why I started being really involved in the subject of putting this collection together. I noticed that the indigenous footwear was disappearing very quickly, and partly it was our fault because we were making cheap sneakers, and later on, plastic sandals. Plastic sandals wear forever, so they replaced the traditional footwear in these countries, which in many ways, it’s very sad. It is not only in the craft of shoe making, but for example in pottery seen in Mexican markets, or textiles with beautiful vegetable dyes. So I felt it would be interesting to somehow put down the history of the shoe making trades of all the different cultures be that China or India, Japan or wherever it was, and form the museum. From the museum we fund field trips to various parts of the world. We have somebody now in Mongolia trying to get some of the ancient footwear or the traditionally made footwear.”

from Lapland, sealskin boots with colourful detailing
boldly colourful beaded plains Indian moccasins

Canadian Indian (Cree) moccasin boots with unique Moose hair tufting
late 20th century urban sophistication in the iconic horse bit Gucci loafers
extremely fine glass beading on Amerindian moccasins

I asked Mrs. Bata if any of her own personal shoes are in the collection. She said the only pair the museum has is the pair that she wore to the museum opening exactly 15 years ago this May. She laughed as she suggested that her feet were "big" and not really right for the museum!

On this 15th anniversary of the Bata Museum, we can be grateful that Mrs. Bata has done so much to make Toronto the cosmopolitan and interesting city it is in 2010. Many, many thanks Mrs. Bata!

detail of shard-like, flat, cut prisms applied to the front hall window recall the angular planes of the facade
detail from a 16th or 17th century spurred boot from the bronze door handle reliefs of the Bata Museum

All shoes from the Bata Shoe Museum collection, Toronto.


  1. What a wonderful uplifting journey this is and your selection of tasteful and artistic photographs really allow those who have never visited a special treat.

    Guess I should get on my walking shoes and head to the Bata Museum now!

    Wonderful work Square!

  2. The Bata Shoe Museum is one of my favourite places here in Toronto, along with the Decorative arts section of the ROM. Adore them both

  3. David Toms brought me here...I think I might stay!

  4. Hi Jill,
    Thank you for stopping by. David, thank you for the recommendation. Hop on board!