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An exhibit with sole

When the Albany Institute of History and Art hosts a traveling exhibition, it likes to create an exhibit of its own to complement it.

So when the institute signed on to bring The Perfect Fit: Shoes Tell Stories to Albany, curator Tammis Groft was excited. Here, she thought, was a chance to put many of the museum's own shoes out on display. "Old Soles: Three Centuries of Shoes from the Albany Institute's Collection" marks the first time the shoes in the institute's collection have been shown together. The two shoe displays will be featured until Jan. 2, kicking off with a Family Day Shoe Festival on Saturday, Oct. 16.

"It's just a fun, interactive, creative and very thought-provoking exhibition," Groft said.

That's because shoes do more than just cover people's feet " they tell stories ranging from the personal to the political, she said.

The institute's collection, for example, is made up of shoes that were made or sold in the Capital District or worn by someone who lived here. They span four centuries.

"There are a lot of children's shoes, boots, tobogganing shoes, riding shoes," Groft said.

A pair of 1740 wedding shoes are made out of silk. There's an 18th century leather overshoe that Groft said was probably worn by a farmer. A pair of men's vulcanized rubber shoes from 1850 were more waterproof than the leather shoes that had been worn to that point, while shoes from the early 20th century mark the first time manufacturers began producing both left and right shoes instead of shapeless shoes that could fit either foot.

In addition to the 60 or so shoes in Old Soles, the exhibit will showcase more than 120 shoes made by American contemporary artists between 2004 and 2008 that constitute the "Perfect Fit" exhibit. The artists used clay, metal, fabric, wood, glass and paper to create shoes the institute says "often communicate multiple meanings and stories that speak to issues of gender, history, sexuality, class, race, and culture."

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