Category Archives: Art and Inspiration

A Picture History of High Heeled Shoes

Everything in our world has a past. Literally everything. Machines, everyday objects, words and languages, feelings, people. Everything.

Hiding in plain sight everywhere are fascinating histories. Today, I’m going to tell you the story of these:

Louboutin shoes. Red sole, black uppers.

Louboutin Shoes
By Arroser (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

But, before we get to the shoes, we’ve got to start with something completely different.

a Belgian horse

MaleneThyssen [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5), via Wikimedia Commons

Huh. This is already headed in some unexpected directions. During Europe’s early adoption of horses as cavalry mounts, people sat on blankets, or right on the horse’s back. The stirrup hadn’t been introduced yet.

Like so:

Marcus Nonius Balbus sitting right on a horse. No stirrups. Or even a blanket.

Marcus Nonius Balbus sitting right on a horse. No stirrups. Or even a blanket. Take a good look.

If you want to shoot a bow from horseback, you need a strong, compact-sized bow (or one that you can swing over the horse’s neck), and a really steady seat on the horse. The stirrup was probably invented by horse-archery cultures in central Asia, and spread like wildfire. As it turns out, having a way to engage your feet in staying on an already panicky and high-strung large animal is a really good idea.

Everybody’s got stirrups.

Mongolian horse archery with stirrups.

Nobody does horse archery like Mongolia goes horse archery. Stirrups FTW. (Pretty much literally.)

But there’s another problem. If Marcus Nonius Balbus falls off his horse, he faceplants in the dirt. If you have stirrups, and nothing to stop your feet from slipping through, this could happen:

Painting of cavalry trooper dragged by a foot caught in the stirrup of his horse.

Giovanni Fattori: Lo Staffato, CA 1880
Dragged and trampled. Ouch.

So, stirrup-using cultures (that didn’t change the shape of the stirrups to a closed-toe design like Japan did) wore boots with heels to minimize the risk of being dragged and trampled to death by a panicking horse. That’s why cowboy boots have heels.

Black cowboy boots. Heels evident.

By Ealdgyth (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So far, then, we have heeled boots = cavalry. Did I mention that horses are really expensive? They’re expensive. They get weird, often fatal health problems for bizarre reasons. They eat a lot, and need lots of grassy pasture. You can’t really shear them for wool, and in Europe, people don’t drink horse milk. They’re pretty much only for transportation. Given how expensive horses are to maintain, horse troops were the elite branch of pre-modern militaries. Cavalry, Cavalier, Chivalry. Heeled boots = cavalry = high status. Eventually, European gentlemen (or any man who wanted to look like one) started wearing heeled boots and shoes and commissioning portraits of themselves in fancy riding gear purely as a statement of status.

Portrait of a man in fancy riding gear with boots.

Willem Heythuijsen by Frans Hals 1634 “I’m just gonna lean my chair back casually so you can appreciate how much I’m in the painting-commissioning horse-owning class.”

So, by this point in the late 1600’s through the 1700’s, men’s fashionable power-shoes had heels.

Women’s fashion had adopted heeled shoes too, as an edgy, fashion-forward touch. (I wanted portraits, so you could get a good look at context, but was too hard to get a good portrait of a woman with her feet visible in normal clothing at this point in history – I could only get a couple of ballet dancers in heeled shoes, and that’s not really a representative occupation. So here’s the shoes themselves.)

Men’s SERIOUS BUSINESS Power Boots:

Nice brocade-faced men's boots with ribbon trim.

Nice brocade-faced men’s boots with white silk ribbon trim.

Women’s fancy heeled shoes:

Women's fancy brocade shoes.

Women’s brocade shoes. French.

Even a century later, by 1800, Women still wore flats sometimes:

Women's slippers, 1800. You wouldn't look twice at these, if someone wore them today.

Women’s slippers, 1800. You wouldn’t look twice at these, if someone wore them today.

Even small children often wore heels:

Children's shoes, could be worn by girls or boys.

Children’s shoes, could be worn by girls or boys.

Men’s Boots for When You Want to Look Like a Greek Hero and Still Ride a Horse While Not Compromising Safety or Style:

Boots of white calf leather, with gilt leather on top, and heels, made to look like Ancient Greek sandals, while actually being riding boots.

I included these, because I love them so much. The sandal parts were probably covered in gold leaf, too. We have to get these back in style, guys.

But it was Louis XIV of France who took heeled shoes beyond fashion statement and into politics.

What you need to know: Louis XIV became king at an insanely young age, when his father died, and he was only four. What were you worrying about when you were four? Louis faced a massive power struggle between his mother, the Catholic church, and the nobility that eventually devolved into a civil war – the Fronde – that pitted the nobles against the crown. Although the rebellion was put down, and Louis XIV confirmed as King, clearly drastic steps had to be taken to control the aristocracy, reduce their riches, and sever them from their power bases in the provinces.

Louis XIV decided to solve this complicated political crisis by holding the nobility hostage to their own social-climbing at a purpose-built palace: Versailles. The previously powerful French aristocracy literally became victims of fashion. You could only get involved in politics (Promotions! Appointments! Bribery! Sweet Kickbacks!) if you got access to the King. You could only get access to the King by attending elaborate ceremonies when Louis XIV got up every morning, and by being there to hand him his undershirt, and maybe whisper suggestions to him. People fought fatal duels over these privileges. You could only get invited if you impressed the right people with insane, extravagant parties. The nobility quickly left their lands, and moved to Versailles, living in apartments on site and attending crazy entertainments and dances, and gambling enormous sums of money.

Louis XIV rewarded those who came to the court at Versailles with the right to wear red-heeled shoes. The right shoes became a status marker, dividing those who were politically in from those who were outcasts. To underline his uncontested power, Louis XIV also commissioned several ballets starring himself and lots of portraits showing off his legs. Legs were very important: until the advent of pants after about 1810, a man had to have good strong calves (which look better in white stockings and heeled shoes). If you were worried that your calves were too weak, you could get calf pads to beef them up a bit.

Louis XIV as Apollo. Ballet costume.

Whether in costume as Apollo

Louis XIV showing off his legs in red stockings.

Or in red stockings

Louis XIV showing off his legs in white stockings.

Louis XIV had great legs, and won’t let you forget it.

Louis XIV portrait, with an ermine lined cloak and red heeled shoes.

Everything about this portrait is about projecting power and wealth. Massive ermine-lined cape. Silk stockings (the better to show off his perfect legs) with diamond-encrusted garter buckles. RED HEELED SHOES.

Anyway. That’s how high heeled shoes became a fashion statement, and why Louboutin shoes have red soles – subconsciously we read it as: the shoes of a rich and fashionable person. Eventually, men started to wear pants after about 1800, and since there were no stockings to show off nice legs, men’s truly high heeled shoes went extinct except for actual riding gear. Women continued to wear heels, though, especially once hemlines rose high enough to show off stockinged legs. These boots were made for walkin’ indeed: go-go boots basically require miniskirts.

For extra bonus points:

Louis XIV on a horse as a quote of a Roman equestrian statue.

Louis XIV on a horse, based on a Roman equestrian statue. Note the lack of stirrups and heels. This gives an idea of the relationship of heels to horse riding, as well as just how much of these portraits are put together out of the artists’ imagination and bank of visual references, rather than painted from life. This is the seventeenth century equivalent of Photoshop. If Louis XIV really did ride a horse in costume, for safety’s sake it would be with stirrups and heeled sandal-imitating boots, like the example earlier. I love it when sources back each other up so neatly.

For even more, here’s General George S. Patton!

General Patton and his dog, Willie. Also note the famous riding boots.

An adorable photograph of General Patton and his dog, Willie. Also note the famous riding boots. This is one modern case in which the footwear becomes part of the identity of the person. Clothes are all about communication, as much as protection from the elements.

 

 

Dragons and Constructed Languages

The Dragon's Cave by Georg Janny, 1917

The Dragon’s Cave by Georg Janny, 1917

The earliest written work in any kind of the English language is Beowulf, which has a horrible, treasure-hoarding dragon in it. Because he was a philologist (expert and critic of written languages and language histories), and arguably the foremost scholar on Beowulf, J. R. R. Tolkien knew all about the dragon, and wrote a bunch of stories for his kids, which eventually mutated into a novel, The Hobbit. Beowulf‘s dragon is a creature of mindless animalistic greed and savagery, but Smaug, the dragon and central antagonist of The Hobbit, can talk. Imagine him voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. But if Bilbo Baggins can understand Smaug, and there isn’t any magic involved here, they share a common language, Fire-Drake and Hobbit. One of the reasons for J. R. R. Tolkien’s works’ staying power is that the world created for them is fully realized enough to bear up under questions like this. So, what language do Bilbo and Smaug share?

In J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth books, including The Hobbit, and all of the books in The Lord of the Rings, English is used as a stand-in for Westron, a hypothetical fictional language commonly spoken on Middle Earth. As a philologist, though, Tolkien created several full-fledged languages, and even language families and language histories (!!), to inhabit his fantasy universe. Elvish languages, such as Sindarin, are a language family, and have their own fictional history. In a very real way, The Lord of the Rings isn’t a fictional work with made-up languages in it, but rather Middle Earth’s fictional languages happen to be wrapped up in a pretty neat story.

The connection between dragons and artistic languages doesn’t stop there, however. You probably know at least three words in Dovahzul. Click and drag between the brackets to reveal. [ FUS RO DAH! ]

The main plot-line of the 2011 video game Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim revolves around dragons. Taking a step further still from Smaug’s command of Westron, not only do these dragons talk, but their language has the power to change reality. In this game, words spoken by someone who truly understands them become focused into a Thuum, or Shout, with different effects depending on the meaning of the words, from breathing fire, to knocking enemies backwards, to turning invisible, or revealing the presence of the undead. The acquisition of words in this language is pivotal to the gameplay in Skyrim. The developers of the game created Dovahzul as a complete artistic language to serve this purpose, and all of the dragons in the game speak the language as well. Over time, the language was expanded and fleshed out by the fanbase, and now Dovahzul is a full-fledged artistic language.

Brush up on your vocabulary and grammar here!

Architecture

Don’t Get People Killed

Everybody likes buildings that don’t collapse. That’s the one thing that absolutely everyone can agree about in architecture. Whether you’re building a land diving platform in Vanuatu, or a scientific research retreat in San Diego, structural integrity is the first priority. This is a long list of the kind of thing that happens when buildings fail.

land diving platform

By Paul Stein from New Jersey, USA (The Tower) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Structural integrity FTW! (Land diving is the ancestor of bungee jumping, and has a good safety record due to smart practices in material choice and design enforced by tradition. Nifty.)

Make Sure the Building Does Its Job

Does the structure do what it was designed to? It’s nice if your building stays up, and looks good, but does it do a good job at what it was designed to do? What if you built an award-winning library, and people found it unpleasant, or even creepy to read in? That’s a problem.

Looks Good

Does your building look good, or at least get across what it’s trying to communicate? Few structures aren’t meant to communicate anything. An example would be a missile silo. The best kind of missile silo is the kind nobody knows is there.

Minuteman Missile Silo Above Ground

This is a Minuteman missile silo doing a very good job of not being noticed.

Missile silo with skylight added.

This is a Minuteman missile silo as a museum feature. With the addition of a skylight, it’s now doing a very good job of being a tourist attraction.

Now THIS is a building meant to communicate something.

Marie Antoinette's cottage

By Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium (Marie-Antoinette’s estate at Versailles, France) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

FANCY. Oh, wait, that’s just the custom-built cottage that Marie Antoinette commissioned for the grounds of the palace at Versailles.

Versailles garden facade.

By Michal Osmenda from Brussels, Belgium (Chateau de Versailles, France) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There we go. That’s the real palace.

“Fancy” doesn’t quite cut it as a description. Oh Dang.

So… What Happens When Communicating Wealth Goes Wrong?

Your house gets featured on McMansionHell, an excellent blog and all-around resource for information on jaw-droppingly ill-advised buildings, and architectural theory. That’s what happens. For an even further exploration of architecture, there’s also Arch Daily Classics like these. If you really want to beef up on architecture, you can always search the library database of subjects by keyword.

subject keyword search

Keyword search by subject. Yes, this will make your life much easier.

Happy researching!

Paving the Way for Equality

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday and in celebration of the latest historic film, Selma, I would like to dedicate my article to those who paved the way for equality. Bloody Sunday is a reference to the unprovoked attack on March 7, 1965 by state troopers on peaceful marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, en route to the state capitol in Montgomery. Many of the lifestyles we live today would not be possible if it weren’t for these courageous, respectful and honorable individuals.

Mississippi Trial, 1955 by Chris Crowe

All of the known and unknown people who gave life and limb during the Civil Rights Movement 1954-1968 are heroes. Everyone involved were from different races, economic backgrounds, nationalities, ethnicities and religious denominations. It didn’t matter where you lived and how much money your family had, they all risked their lives in order for African-Americans to share in the same rights as everyone else and to be able to do so without fear of violence.

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Give Back This Holiday Season

The holiday season has come again, and it’s a great time of year to remember those in need. Volunteering your time is a wonderful way to help out the community and make a difference in someone’s life. There are several organizations in Louisville that rely on volunteers: The Kentucky Humane Society, Norton Healthcare, The Louisville Zoo, The Kentucky Science Center, The Louisville Nature Center, and The Louisville Free Public Library all offer volunteer opportunities for teens. Make sure to call them ahead of time to see when they are accepting volunteers as some of these organizations only have opportunities seasonally.


Check out this and other titles on Volunteering

Remember that there are many ways to help others everyday too. You can do something for an elderly neighbor such as taking out their garbage or raking the leaves in their yard. Most grocery stores are taking donations of food, clothing, and toys to prepare for the holiday season. The Red Cross is always in need of blood donations, especially of rare blood types. If you see a need that is not being met you can even create your own charity, like 16 year old Maddy Beckman who fashioned Coat-A-Kid to help keep kids warm in the winter.

Spread the spirit of the season by finding your own unique way of giving back!

-Lynn, Children and Teen Services, St. Matthews and Westport Branches

Coming Soon: Banned Books Week!

Celebrate your freedom to read by participating in Banned Books Week from September 21-27. Banned Books Week began in 1982 in response to thousands of books being challenged in libraries, schools, and stores. Books are challenged for many reasons including: use of language, unsuited to age group, political viewpoints, and religious viewpoints just to name a few. In order for a book to be banned from a public library it must be put through a formal review process where several librarians read the book to determine if its content reflects the complaints made against the book. Keep in mind that it is rare for a book to be banned from a public library because it is the library’s mission to provide everyone with equal access to information.

These are the top ten most challenged books from 2013:

1. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

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Award Winning Books on the Red Carpet

Teen Summer Reading is in full-swing. Have you gotten your Summer Reading folder?  Along with prizes for completing your reading, there are a wide variety of activities and programs at a library branch near you. There is a main event Friday, July 11,  6-9 PM that is sure to draw a crowd: the Teen After Hours Party. Be a part of the very first Teen Choice Book Awards being presented at the party. Tell us which titles you think should win, by voting for your favorites.

One of the categories up for vote is Best Book-to-Movie.  Who will get the most votes: The Hunger Games, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Divergent, The Book Thief, or The Spectacular Now?  Have you read all the books that are nominees?

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Girly girl: my late-in-life love of the super girly

Ask anyone I went to school with, and they will tell you that Lynette Ruby was not a girly girl – that is to say if I am even remembered by my name, and not “that angry short girl with the pixie haircut.”  I thought giving in and having fun with something girly like a movie, book, or pop song would ultimately undo whatever tough personae I’d worked to cultivate.   There were certain things I would not allow myself to enjoy…well, not publicly at least.  There were pop bands I’d deny enjoying, movies I’d claim I didn’t want to see, books I wouldn’t read, and more feminine looks I would refuse to wear.

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Dive into Podcasts

“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. Welcome to Night Vale.” 

So begins the first episode of the increasingly popular Welcome to Night Vale, where we get a glimpse into a community where all conspiracy theories are real, librarians are monstrous creatures that “SHOULD NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES BE APPROACHED,” and angels (which are all named Erika and do not exist) communicate through Old Woman Josie. We are listening in to the public radio show of the little town, headed by Cecil Palmer, our constant companion through all the trying times that you can imagine would occur in such a place.  Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast by Commonplace Books that updates twice a month.

Some of you might be wondering what a podcast is. (I imagine most of you are wondering about that surrealist nonsense in the previous paragraph, but I’m hoping at least one of you focused on the “podcast” part and not the “Erika” part, because this is my segue anyway).

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Fictional Food: Recipes Inspired by Your Favorite Teen Fiction

My bookish friends, how often have you fantasized about wandering through Hogsmeade, slipping into the Three Broomsticks, and ordering yourself an excellent foaming hot tankard of Butterbeer? Or perhaps the tempting sweets of the White Witch from Chronicles of Narnia are more to your liking? Will it be Turkish Delight? Alice’s Looking-Glass Cake? Or Dauntless chocolate cake?

Some books are meant to be savored—some books devoured. Some, moreover, simply whet our appetites for food that we can never taste.
Or can we? Whether you’re culinary, literary, or both, I invite you to test out some of these fun cookbook compilations available in the library’s collection. Cook something right out of the pages of your favorite book! Be sure to check out some of these fun cookbooks.

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Knickerbocker Glory—More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Wizards and Non-Wizards Alike by Dinah Bucholz

Offers many a tempting treat for wizard or muggle (though those looking for butterbeer will be sorely disappointed). Explore Diagon Alley delights, treats from the train, Great Hall favorites, holiday fare and much more!

 FEATURED RECIPE:Hagrid’s Rock Cakes

hagrid-cakes

 Hagrid’s rock cakes, which are mentioned no less than three times in the Harry Potter books, are a standard with tea and hard as a rock if made authentically (to make a more palatable version don’t over bake and leave them out for several days like Hagrid probably did).

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