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Kierpce (kyrpce in the local dialect) traditional footwear of inhabitants of the Podhale region made of cowhide, with long leather straps used to fasten them. They come from the village of Bukowina Tatrzańska in Podhale, where they were made in the early 20th century. We do not know who they were manufactured by and when they were used for the last time.

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Kierpce (kyrpce in the local dialect) traditional footwear of inhabitants of the Podhale region made of cowhide, with long leather straps used to fasten them. They come from the village of Bukowina Tatrzańska in Podhale, where they were made in the early 20th century. We do not know who they were manufactured by and when they were used for the last time. In 1965, they were purchased for the collection of the Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane.  They represent the type of kierpce which are not reinforced with an additional sole. As this kind of shoe without soles wore out fast, relatively few such antique objects have been preserved in the museum collection. Each of the preserved pairs or sometimes single shoes is unique in its own way. They differ from one another in the method of leather tanning, plaiting of toes (kufas), finishing of sides and heel counters, fastening technique and decoration or lack thereof. Kierpce are a type of footwear known in most areas of southern Slav lands. In the Podhale region, they belong to the most archaic elements of folk clothing for everyday use. The oldest kierpce had no additional sole, nor were they decorated. They were worn with foot wraps (onuce) – leg covers made of pieces of linen, and of cloth in winter. Men's kierpce had long leather straps, and those of women more often had nawłoki – strings twisted of brown wool. They were used to fasten a foot wrap to the calf and then a low-cut shoe to the foot. One of traditional ways of fastening men's kierpce to a leg involved wrapping a foot wrap around a foot so that it covered the lower part of the trouser leg ending at the ankle; once put on, the foot wrap was tied up with a strap. Initially, kierpce were made in households. For each of the shoes, a single piece of leather was intended, most often cattle skin, or in the absence thereof, pigskin. In the past, cattle skin was bought at fairs or the skin was tanned at home with the use of an extract of tree bark. There were also kierpce made of untanned, raw material, which changed their size radically after getting soaked and they were hardly suitable for use thereafter. Such shoes sewn of raw pigskin were often worn by young shepherds called juhas. They received those shoes from their employer – a senior shepherd – as a form of compensation for their work. Kierpce were sewn out of a piece of leather similar to a rectangle in shape. Along the edges, straps were notched; straps were used to sew up the entire shoe, starting from its pointed toe. Once it was sewn, the shoe was shaped on a wooden mould or stuffed with hard straw. In the 2nd half of the 19th century, people started to decorate kierpce. It was also when the sewing of kierpce became an occupation of a specialised group of kierpce makers, also called “kierpce tailors”. Initially, this type of footwear was decorated with ornaments embossed on leather with the use of special stamps. In the interwar period, it became popular to set the shoe surface with metal studs. At the same time, people began to strengthen kierpce with an extra sole and heel, as well as pad them with lining. Soled and decorated in this way, they served only as gala footwear, worn less and less frequently. Kierpce were the first element of the highlander outfit that fell into disuse, replaced by factory-made shoes. This process began in the late 19th century and intensified in the interwar period. During World War II, because of problems with the supply of shoes, there was an increase in demand for kierpce, which were often made of poorer quality leather types. Demand for this type of regional footwear in its decorative form was renewed again in the 1960s, mainly by folk groups and even individual users. Today, women wear kierpce, and men wear kierpce or high boots as part of the Podhale costume worn on special occasions. All of the kierpce described here are made of a single piece of leather. The straps used to sew up the shoes are notched on two opposite sides of the material. The kufa and sides of a kierpce shoe are connected by two wide and long strips of leather, cut out in such a way that the end of the notch falls on the shoe toe. Both straps cross on the toe, creating a kind of braid. The same straps, threaded through a series of notches in the shoe sides join them with the kufa. The counter is sewn up to 1/3 of its height with another single strap, notched at the rear of the shoe. The kierpce are decorated with serrated cut-outs on the edges, stars and dots embossed with metal stamps and lines made with a knurl. Straps used for attaching the kierpce to feet are made of a long leather strap cut lengthwise. Thanks to this, at their edges, there is a series of semi-circular notches formed as a result of cutting holes. At the end of each of the straps there is a hole – kosiłka – made by cutting the leather. Such holes are also on both sides of the heel and at the front of the shoes. To fasten the kierpce to the foot, the strap was threaded through the hole cut in its opposite end. The loop so formed was put on the calf, at about half its height, and tightened. Then the strap was wrapped tightly around the leg. Next, the strap was threaded through kosiłki located on the heel, and in the end, through those at the front of the shoe, that is on the instep. In this way, the foot wraps and low-cut kierpce were attached well to the feet.

Elaborated by Anna Kozak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopane), © all rights reserved

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