Filley Footwear Brightens Library in March

Linda Filley, a Millbrook, N.Y., artist now exhibiting at the Norfolk Library, has always liked shoes.  “When I was 10 or 11, my mom stopped at a store that was having a sample sale. Because they were samples, all the shoes were in my size and she let me buy some two-toned flat shoes that I thought were the most wonderful thing in world,” she recalls.

Her passion for shoes has not dimmed, but today her shoes are not meant for walking. For the past 20 years, Filley has created fanciful footwear, whimsical artistic gems crafted from cardboard, bits of wrapping paper, old diaries, packaging materials and, yes, even the bright foil that wrapped candies brought home from Asia by her husband.

“I love going to estate sales and yard sales,” she said. “I pick up old wallpaper, maps, old sheet music … . My mother-in-law was a bookbinder, and I got a lot of her old marbling paper—I used that for the first shoes I made. It almost looked like denim with a waxy surface.”

In the deft hands of the self-taught artist, a couple of pages of old sheet music can turn into a long, pointy-toe slipper with roses, while a piece of discarded wallpaper may find new life as a high-heeled floral bouquet. 

Filley says her work is never predetermined and she finds inspiration everywhere. “I can’t stop,” she said. “I could be walking down the street and see a broken branch or a color out of the corner of my eye. Or perhaps it is a print or design. I can drive my family crazy.”

Each shoe is an original design and a one-of-a-kind creation, although each is informed by the character of the imaginary woman who will wear it. She works about five hours each day, surrounded by scraps of paper, odd bits of ribbon, mesh bags that once held onions and other commonplace items of modern life.

Filley always had an affinity for art but did not set out to be an artist. She left home at 16 and “wandered a bit….I did a bit of everything and wondered where it would all go,” she said.  Along the way, she enjoyed elaborately wrapping gifts for friends and family. Indeed, her first shoes were decorations made to top gifts she gave to two dear friends.

Before that, however, she spent many years crafting paper dresses that were signature elements in the windows of a store owned by her long-time friend, Maureen Missner. Missner had come home from a trip with a large wire mannequin. She turned Filley’s imagination loose on the mannequin, planning to use it as a window display. “I thought I could weave paper through it to make a dress,” Filley recalled. “I started doing dresses for the window seasonally and we had a nice following.”

When Missner saw the shoe on her present, she perceived another opportunity. “I started making shoes to complete the outfits,” Filley said. When Missner mounted a retrospective of Filley outfits, every shoe sold in one night.

Filley is no sentimentalist and readily parts with her creations. “They are all for sale,” she said. “I do have a couple of small ones that I like and that are not for sale. One of them I made out of an old diary with a roll of old stamps that became the strap.”

This is a return visit to Norfolk for Filley, who last showed her work at the library in 2017. “The people at the library are pretty special,” she said, “and the library is just beautiful.”

The show opened March 2 and will continue during regular library hours through April 4.

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