By Mike LaBella
---- — Get ready for another round of giant, fancifully decorated shoe-themed sculptures.
Team Haverhill, the organization that several years ago launched the successful Soles of Haverhill Shoe-la-Bration celebration, is at it again.
In a unique twist, this time the sculptures, again designed by local artists, will not only provide another permanent art installation in the city. They will also double as durable benches, each one bearing a plaque recognizing the business or individual sponsoring the sculpture.
The new Soles of Haverhill 2014 Fashion Forward initiative is being put into motion as Team Haverhill begins plans for a second installation of giant shoe sculptures next year.
Another twist is that the giant fiberglass sculptures will not be auctioned off to the highest bidders, as was done with the first set of sculptures. Instead, Team Haverhill wants the planned dozen or so sculptures to become permanent public art in the city by offering them through a sponsorship program.
When the original 14 high-top women’s shoe sculptures were auctioned off in 2009, several of them left the area — and some folks were not happy.
“Many people were sorry to see them leave the city after the auction,” said Eric Karlstad, who is co-chairing the event along with Team Haverhill member Leota Sarrette. “They were particularly unhappy about the Merry Mac sculpture, which was won by a family member of the local artist who created it, then moved it to the western part of the state.”
Like the last shoe sculpture event, all the sculptures must be on public display for a period of time before being moved to their sponsor sites in the city.
The large-scale community project called the Shoe-la-Bration was launched by the Soles of Haverhill, in partnership with Team Haverhill and the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce. The project raised money for future endeavors and also raised awareness of the city’s rich history in the fashion and shoe manufacturing worlds, its diverse and talented artists, and its community spirit.
Ultimately, the proceeds from the first event benefited local charities and future art endeavors, and the shoe sculptures located throughout the city visually transformed the area while showcasing local artists and providing recognition to the sponsoring businesses.
So after such a successful event, what do you do for an encore?
Team Haverhill, an all-volunteer group with a proven track record of bringing positive attention to the city, has a simple answer: This time, turn the shoes into benches.
Karlstad said the idea of incorporating a bench into the shoe sculpture was done to encourage people to sit down and interact. It also solved a design problem that would have resulted in a big hole in the sculpture. The new design is based on an ankle-height vintage woman’s shoe inspired by a shoe on display at the Buttonwoods Museum. An image of the shoe is also on the Essex Street Gateway Mural, which was painted on the side of a four-story downtown building and sponsored by Team Haverhill.
Karlstad said the Soles of Haverhill 2014 Fashion Forward project will have a theme of bringing the community together for a good cause.
Travel around the inner city and you’re bound to come across some of those giant Shoe-la-Bration shoes in various high-visibility locations, including in front of City Hall, in front of Trinity Church on White Street and the Firefighting Museum on Kenoza Avenue, in Washington Square and Columbus Park, next to Pentucket Bank and in front of the Buttonwoods Museum.
As prominent businesses vied for ownership of the shoe sculptures in 2009 through sponsorships and auctions, the event captured the attention of thousands of locals and tourists who wandered through the city to see the whimsical sculptures. Shoe-designer-to-the-stars Stuart Weitzman, son of a Haverhill shoe factory owner, signed on as a sponsor and flew in from New York City to autograph a Swarovski crystal-studded sculpture that he designed and is on display downtown at the Hamel Mill Lofts apartment complex.
Karlstad said local businesses are already getting involved. They include Reach Fashion on Wingate Street in the Arts District, which will host a block-wide gala fashion and trunk show in conjunction with the unveiling of the new shoe sculptures next fall.
“I can’t wait,” said Reach Fashion owner Giovanni Caputo. “It’s going to be amazing.”
“The streets will be filled with creative, energetic clothing and public art designs, and we are using all local models,’’ Caputo said.
Down the street at Positive Images Gallery, owner Patricia Bruno is excited to be participating in the festivities.
“Projects such as this are so much fun and create such positive energy,” Bruno said. “I am always proud to tell visitors to my shop to check out the variety of fascinating art installations, such as the murals and shoe sculptures, as they wander around the area.”
Sarrette said plans are underway for a variety of events such as a “pop-up” museums, including an exhibit by Historic New England, all celebrating Haverhill’s historic and contemporary ties to the fashion industry.
Local schools are hoping a few philanthropists will step forward by sponsoring some of the fiberglass shoe sculptures on their behalf. Students and teachers are eager to engage in this public art installation by designing and painting these shoe forms as part of their arts education learning.
“As this second phase begins, it seems that there are some big shoes to fill,” Sarrette said.
Sponsorships for the Soles of Haverhill 2014 Fashion Forward project are now available at a variety of levels, each one with its own set of benefits.
For more information, send email to email@example.com or visit online at www.teamhaverhill.org or www.solesofhaverhill.com.