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In their shoes

Uneva Dobrinz is not a professional artist "by any means." "This is the first time I've ever exhibited anything," said Dobrinz, who lives on a farm southeast of Mapleton, N.D. "I think it was the subject of compassion that was interesting to me."...

"Beasts for Your Burdens" by Emily Williams-Wheeler of Fargo

Uneva Dobrinz is not a professional artist "by any means."

"This is the first time I've ever exhibited anything," said Dobrinz, who lives on a farm southeast of Mapleton, N.D. "I think it was the subject of compassion that was interesting to me."

The piece she created is built around a pair of white performance shoes, one decorated a little flashier than the other with red sequins and the heel elevated on a glittery stand. The other is "more subdued" and rests flat. The work examines the theme of compassion for those perceived as different because of their outward appearance.

Dobrinz's work is just one of more than 140 shoe-based works of art that comprise the Shoe Art Show. Most are on display at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead. Some are also being exhibited at the Fargo West Acres mall, and others will be on display at downtown area businesses. The Shoe Art Show runs through March 28.

Artists participating in the exhibit include first-timers like Dobrinz as well as professional artists and points in between. It's not too late for individuals to obtain a pair of shoes and make an exhibit for the show. And Vicky Jo Bogart, the show's organizer, expects the collection to grow to at least 250 pieces.

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It's appropriate that the theme of the shoe show, which is part of this year's "A Woman's Perspective Multimedia Art Exhibition," is compassion. The show, after all, traces its roots to an act of kindness more than a decade ago.

After the infamous 1997 flood in the Red River Valley, Dancing Fair, a Roseville, Minn., dance shoe and clothing distributor, donated hundreds of pairs of dancing shoes.

"With the flood and with the event that had taken place, we felt really bad and we wanted to do all we could to help," said Matt Schroepfer, president and owner of Dancing Fair. "Because we're in the dance business, we felt we could contribute by providing dance shoes."

Bogart - who besides being an artist is also a dance instructor - was the point person for distributing the shoes to the dance and theater community in the area. But once the distribution was done, there were about 300 pairs of shoes left over, most because they were of low-demand sizes. Bogart wasn't quite sure what to do with the extras.

"Finally, it hit us," she said. "We'll transform them into art."

The leftover shoes were used in an exhibit titled "Someone Else's Shoes." And even before that show ended, Bogart began distributing the shoes so they could be turned into art for the current show.

Schroepfer applauds the exhibit.

"I think it's great. I think it's really a fun idea," he said. "Dance has so many creative people, and this just goes to prove it again."

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While most of the pieces in the show came from North Dakota and Minnesota, there were also entries from Winnipeg, Denver, Boulder, Colo., Chicago, Aberdeen, S.D., and LeClaire, Iowa.

But even more diverse than the origins of the art pieces was the subject matter the artists took on.

Tricia Coulson, an artist from Iowa, used her shoes to create "Bound No More," which contemplates the women in Asia who, as her accompanying narrative states, "suffered with bound feet to satisfy the cultural definition of beauty." She decorated her shoes with Chinese newsprint.

"Blanketing the Planet" is an ode to the church ladies who create blankets that are donated around the world.

"They're a quiet group of people that just work tirelessly for no recognition whatsoever," said Deborah Elhard of Ellendale, N.D., who created the piece.

The shoes are covered with maps of countries where Lutheran World Relief sends blankets. Pictures of people from impoverished nations grace the inside of the shoe. Elhard's work rests on a plaster base the color of barren ground. Two bare footprints are set in the plaster in juxtaposition to the shoes.

Other pieces hit even closer to home. Fargo artist Barbara Dalen created two works, "My Mother's Shoes" and "My Father's Shoes." The two pieces are inspired by her parents' battles with cancer. Her mother is still living. Her father died in October, 4½ years after surgery and treatment for lung cancer.

She called the process of making the pieces "healing and therapeutic."

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There are blue shoes, referencing Elvis Presley. There are bright, red-sequined shoes, referencing Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz."

In some pieces, the shoes are a bit harder to spot. Caron Lage of St. Cloud, Minn., used shoe leather to make a necklace in a piece that deals with the consumption of U.S. culture. Another incorporates two shoes into a larger single shoe and contemplates what it would be like to win the Powerball lottery.

Bogart is impressed by the quality and diversity of the work the show elicited.

When she looks across the work, she sees the artist's "compassion for themselves, others and the world.

"It's gratifying to see how much thought and care was put into the creation of their art work," Bogart said.

The show will end with a March 30 shoe art auction and runway show in which many of the shoes will be worn or carried for attendees to view. Proceeds from the auction will go to the Salvation Army, the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center and "A Woman's Perspective" exhibition.

"It was important to allow people to share how they feel about compassion," Bogart said. "And this is a way of letting them do that."

Events and exhibits

"A Woman's Perspective Multimedia Art Exhibition" features art shows and events in the Fargo-Moorhead area through March. The theme of the exhibition is compassion. Events include:

- The Shoe Art Show through March 28 at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.

- The Shoe Art Runway Show, Auction and Dessert, 1:30 p.m. March 30 at the Hjemkomst Center.

- Literary and performing art, 2 p.m. March 16 at the Minnesota State University Moorhead Fox Recital Hall.

- "Displays of Compassion" exhibit through March 30 at the Hjemkomst Center.

- Painter Mary Pfeifer's "Walking with Compassion" exhibit through April 4 at Nichole's Fine Pastry in Fargo.

- For more information, call (701) 232-5389 or visit www.awp.handworks.org .

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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