By  on October 12, 2007

BOSTON — Curator Pamela Parmal can motor along in her Kate Spade flats, which is useful because the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's new footwear exhibit is spread out along a half-mile trail through the building.

"Walk This Way," running through March 23, juxtaposes 32 pairs of shoes with objects in the museum's permanent gallery. Sometimes the shoe-object pairing is one of design inspiration, as in a 1991 Vivienne Westwood platform pump and two panels of early 18th-century brocade silk that appears to have inspired it. Other times it's a cultural wink, such as Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka's rubber-coated cleat near a Greek amphora showing the barefoot athletes of antiquity.

The MFA's first shoe exhibit since the Seventies is intended to lure visitors deep into permanent collections, which can lack attention amid the fanfare of traveling shows. Patrons who want to see "Walk" in its entirety will need to hoof it from the Etruscan galleries to contemporary studio craft galleries and back.

That's what Parmal does. Zipping past a laboratory where a depiction of George Washington on horseback is being conserved on the mammoth canvas "The Passage of the Delaware" by Thomas Sully, she stops at a pair of Italian "slap sole" shoes with silver embroidery, dating from the 1660s. The shoe takes its name from a thin, extra sole running over the opening between the ball of the foot and the heel that would have "slapped" as the wearer walked. The Italian pair sits next to a Marc Jacobs' fall 2006 suede silver snakeskin and tulle runway shoe with a similar, bridge-like sole.

"We wanted to make some of the pairings a surprise," said Parmal, the David and Roberta Logie curator of Textile and Fashion Arts. With MFA director Malcolm Rogers, Parmal has been on a mission to strengthen and more frequently show the museum's contemporary fashion collections. "We wanted to show what these objects can reveal about the cultures who made them and the people who wore them."

Then she was off again, past students sketching Egyptian scarab beetles to nod at a Miu Miu patent leather wedge with a gilded, carved wooden sole ensconced next to similarly gilded, 18th-century rococo furniture.

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