Author: Susanne Grieve
Date: May 5, 2012
Wind Speed: 5 knots
Temp with wind chill: -72°C
As conservators we are often asked what our favourite object has been to treat. While I have been fortunate enough to preserve a variety of material culture from prehistoric Native American pottery to modern rubber, there has been one type of object that has always been my favorite: shoes! These unique items are very special to work with since they can represent personal choices in style and function.
This week, I conserved two pairs of leather boots from Scott’s expedition base at Cape Evans that were found near Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s bunk area. The leather on the shoes was well worn and told a story on its own with numerous cuts and scrapes along the surface. The heel areas have buckles and straps that were used to secure early style crampons to the boot to increase grip on the ice. The most interesting feature however, was the sole area where the bottommost heel lifts had been worn away and the toes reinforced with extra layers of leather. For insulation, the early explorers used straw and newspaper which is still found inside the shoes.
Pair of leather boots tied together at the laces. © AHT/Susanne
Sole of one of the boots with the heel lifts worn away and a reinforced toe area. © AHT/Susanne
For me, the ability to preserve these personal items that were once used to cross some of the toughest terrain on earth is humbling and I appreciated the opportunity to “walk a mile in their shoes”.