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Spotlight Designer: Helene Mitauer
By Clayton Ruley
 

GeoClan.com is an alternative outlet for the people of the community to exert their creativity and cultural expressions. The Style page was created to work as a medium for this creativity and _expression to be showcased. The page will also help educate people on the many different styles and cultures of people who are not like them. We also offer this page as an opportunity for local designers to introduce themselves and their work to the world. Each month, a different designer from the community will be highlighted, allowing them to give a brief history of themselves as well as giving theirselves the chance for exposure for their work.

This month we highlight Helene Mitauer, an artist, youth encourager and art teacher in the Philadelphia School District for 14 years. This artist isn't a designer by trade but she has taken her art to another medium: what we wear on our feet!  Ms. Mitauer does inspirational boots, shoes and sandals for all to see what is really good.

We met in her Northern Liberties home to talk about her designer shoes and boots but of course it develops into so much more! Look out for part 2 of this interview where we talk more about the person and her interesting life.  

GeoClan.com: Now how long have you been making these wearable pieces of art?


Helene Mitauer: First time I started was in 1990, a woman noticed 1991 me and she put me on her greeting cards.   It was funny, I was walking down South Street and someone stopped and said to me: "I have your shoes on my desk!" And I turned around and said: "what are you talking about, what do you mean? She said: "someone sent me a card with your boots on it and I put the card on my desk" and I said: "oh".

 

Just a few samples of the visionary product.

GC: So in 1991 CC Buff used your boots for greeting cards?


HM: She made four different cards using four different photographs and sold them in greeting card stores.   She asked me if she could and I said yes and I didn't ask for any money I just asked for pictures of the boots because I didn't have a camera and was just saying three days before "I need pictures of my boots". She took pictures of my boots and copies of the cards.   I figured you gave me something now you can have something for free!     

 

GC: So you have been wearing the boots ever since 1991?


HM: Ever since!   You know I love paint everything. Since I have been a artist, it has been hard to pick a surface to do things on, because any surface I see could be art!   I know if I were young I would be doing pieces everywhere I would be doing drawings on walls, not black line but big beautiful color pieces and I would be in some type of a collective. As it is you know I painted my car, an old Chevy Chevette.   I did my front door of my apartment.   So you do know I can't stop.   One the back of the car it had Albert Einstein's huge face and it said next to it: "To Teach Is Humane, To Teach Art Is Devine" and on one side I think I wrote something like "Being in school is cool and all the schools I've attended like Academy of Fine Arts, Moore College of Art and the University of The Arts, I have a thing about painting on things just so (pondering) people will see my art maybe? Maybe it's also to get reactions but the words on the boots are really because instead of saying them of speaking them I can be like a walking graffiti piece.

 

GC: So how was the reaction to them?

HM: It was welcomed, people always wanted to get a pair done or telling me how cool they were.   Eventually I got to the point where every time I go a new pair of shoes I felt I had to paint them because that is who I am. It was a Helene thing.   People will just notice me from the boots and say: "there she is" or people will say, "I remember your boots".

 

GC: She has seven pairs of boots in her home not to mention the shoes, sandals. What was the inspiration to do the boots?


HM: Actually it's like the writings I see on the streets; it's exactly the same concept! Kids write on walls to give a message. I write on my shoes to give a message. My shoes are not just drawings they have words. The words are always something I would say or something I want people to hear.

 

GC: So there are some positive messages?


HM: The messages are always something positive and sometimes my shoe even have a motif so I have my survival and resistance shoes, my learn to read shoes; I have my use your brain shoes.   They have their own concept.   I use words like (as she goes over her collection): "Art makes you smart, School is cool, Spread the word, Unlock your mind, Freedom now, Spirit, Family, Fly with me and Spirit from Africa".   And when I do this I know I'm doing it because I want to see youth and people's reaction to it.   This is especially true when I where it around the children and they see words like "school is cool" I think it makes people think I think it makes people reaffirm what I have written because the shake their head and say "right on!" Or they shake their head and go: "great shoes".   They agree with what I'm saying they like what they are reading and they feel good when they see it, I think!   Those are just the reactions I see.

 

GC: So what do you use to make your art?

HM: I use paint pens (the ones when you shake 'em you can hear the metal ball), usually water based but when they dry they stay forever and I use a silicon spray and spray over the boot one or two times and the images and words never, never moves.   The only way it will move is if you scuff it off and then I can redo them.

 

I will probably paint my shoes till I can't paint any longer.   I will always write a message on my shoes and I will always paint my shoes. Even if it is something small like on the front just so your brain is being used.   Something about who you are as an person can recognize what I'm saying.  

 

I am a teacher, mother, neighbor and someone in the community who truly cares!   The next pair of shoes I buy I'm going to put in big letters on both sides of the outside "I CARE". Because I'm hearing too many people saying they don't care, and some don't even know why or they are doing it because they are numb. I need to find more people who care and want to help!

 

GC: It's hard when it doesn't start at home


HM: Yes but I think everyone needs people to talk to. For most people school is the only thing that is there. Everyday for 180 days of the year even when home is not dependable school is there.   My dream is every child can come to school and talk to someone about anything that bothers them.   That's the only way things will get better.   Not by internalizing it, not by ignoring it or trying to forget it but by talking to someone and figuring how to make it better.

 

Our kids don't know that they can talk, they aren't told that and I think at times children are so involved in their lives that they don't hear us and we let it fly, we just let it go.   If I had a classroom everyday with 30 children everyday it would be different because I know out of every class I have I have 5 or 6 that are mine, they love the class they love what we are doing they love me.   They live for my class, when they see me in the halls they want to go to my class, they want to help they are so good when they are in my room.   These children are children are probably lucky because they have moms and dads that give them everything they need so when they are in school they can be everything they have to do!

 

I'm only thinking of it in perspective of my life.   When I was a kid I had a horrible life, didn't care what I did in school! Didn't worry what the teacher said or anyone else for that matter.   I was just focused on me, my life, survival, doing what I wanted and I didn't have anyone who really taught me to be a good kid.   They just told me to be one but never showed me and I think I teach a lot of children like that so I can't blame them I just have to find that niche and reach them.

 

If I had them everyday I would have the best class in the school because I would make sure that we would have great personal relationships.

 

More words to live by.

GC: So back to the art, have you thought of making and selling these boots?

HM: Yes that's why I did my webpage, if people look on the page and are interested in the boots they can email me and I usually make the boots out of a concept. When I take someone's boots I have to know whom they are, their favorite saying, some things they believe in, brother and sisters, if they are an only child, what their favorite genre of movies are, what kind of books they read, if they read at all. Things that are personal to them because what they tell me I'm putting on the boots or shoes. If they don't want to do that they could also get an artistic boot with me painting them. But that is what I need I need input. They can either send me the shoes in a box and I will ship them back done (I'll pay for shipping) or I'll buy Timberland boots or Birkenstock sandals or any top quality boots myself, (they have to know their size) and I will paint them and send them to them.   If I buy them they pay for shipping.   People have asked for some and maybe seen them on my feet and wanted a pair because believe it or not people look at your feet, more than they look at what you are wearing.

 

GC: So how long do these take to make?


HM: Sandals about 2 hours, and boots might take me about 6 hours.   Sneakers aren't that easy because the material doesn't keep the same consistency.   I like a challenge though so I you have any ideas I'm game but you have to trust me. You can give me the concept but I will do my interpretation of the concept going along with everything you communicate to me. They can look at my portfolio and check it out.

 

GC: Yeah that's called artistic integrity!

HM: I feel confident that anyone who goes to people for art knows to trust the artist.

 

GC: What are the price ranges on the wearable art?


HM: They can start as low as $75 and as high as $300 depending on the type of footwear used.  

 

GC: So how can they get these? What is the webpage address?

HM: They can go to helenemitauer.info and look for the email icon or they can also email me at hmitauer@comcast.net .

 

Look For part two of this interview as we go deeper in the growth of Helene Mitauer. Peace!

If you have questions, comments, suggestions or if you would like to be a Featured Designer. Feel free to email GeoClan at style@geoclan.com

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