Feet of Clay

‘When we were very young’ – ceramic shoe installation.


I made my first ‘feet of clay’ for a project during my ceramic diploma course.  The work was entitled ‘Shoes for the Cobbler’s Daughter’ and was based on the saying ‘A  cobbler’s children often go barefoot’.  The piece consisted of a series of girl’s shoes – started but unfinished – which were symbolic of the things we mean to do in life but somehow never get round to.  It is often what we leave undone or unsaid that returns to haunt us and those spectral porcelain forms, with faint washes of colour, were the physical manifestation of the cobbler’s regrets.

Since making this piece I have read numerous interesting articles about the complex cultural and historical symbolism of shoes, as well as books outlining their role in fairy tales and legends.  But what fascinates me most is the power of the shoe to act, almost literally, as a ‘stand-in’ or ‘substitute’ for its wearer.

Put a pair of shoes on the ground, stand back and their owner is conjured up in front of you.  After all, we choose them with care so they reflect our taste – colour, texture, style, height of heel, practical, impractical, sturdy, delicate.  I could go on.  In addition, they carry us through some of the most important events of our lives, shape to our foot over time and wear unevenly according to our gait.  Each pair is as individual as it’s wearer.  As my grandmother always used to say; “You can tell a great deal about someone from their shoes”.

I have continued to hand-build stoneware and porcelain shoes – often in series – exploring not only the characters of those who may have worn them but also their relationship with each other.  This presents its own difficulties when it comes to selling them as they really only ‘tell a story’ when seen together but often end up being split apart as purchasers want only one particular pair.  So I face a dilemma. Carry on making ‘stories’, which is the way I prefer to work, or submit to commercialism and make individual pairs to sell?

Like many artists and makers I also become attached to work – sometimes an entire installation but more often just one particular pair – and find it hard to let them go.   It’s usually the very shoes that everyone else wants too which makes it even more difficult!

I’ve taken a break from my ceramic ‘cordwaining’ activities lately (and the struggle of trying to resolve these creative conflicts) to concentrate on photography, little ‘curations’ and writing about the work of others who inspire me.  I have no doubt however, that sooner or later I will be ‘brought to heel’ and find myself creating more ‘lost soles’.

Oh – and by the way, I collect vintage shoes – often thread bare, worn or faded  but still intrinsically beautiful –  and also wooden shoe lasts.  But maybe I’ll save that for another time.