Converse All Star sneakers were first produced in 1917 by Converse Rubber Shoe Company of Malden, Mass., and soon became the professionals’ sneaker of choice. For the last few weeks, the iconic sneaker has become the “canvas” of choice for 36 local artists who are reimagining and riffing on the classic design for Westville’s 17th annual ArtWalk Festival.
The annual festival runs this Friday and Saturday.
“Reimagining Converse Hightops” is the theme that challenges local artists to put their spin on the all-white classic canvas sneakers donated by Converse. Organized by Westville’s Design Monsters, a graphic design studio, the creations will be displayed and sold at a silent auction at this year’s Artwalk to benefit the festival and Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA) operations.
Converse sneakers were first promoted by basketball player and company spokesperson Charles “Chuck” Taylor in 1923. Taylor’s signature would eventually become part of the brand’s logo emblazoned on every shoe, a beloved sneaker known by many nicknames: “Converse,” “Cons,” “Allstars,” and “Chucks.”
By the time Nike, the modern-day sportswear juggernaut, had bought the struggling Converse brand in 2003, the sneaker had enjoyed ebb-and -flow popularity among a number of groups including military personnel (for training), Olympians, professional basketball players, musicians and some subculture groups.
Though the sneaker has been evolving with new colors and some contemporary design modifications, it retains its classic look. The look has found a new audience among young people and hipsters who favor the pared-down, retro look over today’s high-tech, bells-and-whistles sports shoe offerings that cost exponentially more.
Some artists’ creations for the ArtWalk project will retain their wearability, championing high-top fashion, as in Laura Marsh’s patriotic pair ...
... or in PattieBelle Hasting’s mod “Connie Janes,” whose lucky buyer will also come away with a “private half-day Refashion | Recycle | Remake workshop with the artist,” according to Hastings.
Several “Cons” have taken on new functionality, as in Kieran Coleman’s ambient, electric “Light-up” shoes.
Still others will have been reconstituted into non-wearable art objects that might have had Chuck Taylor scratching his head.
For the second year, the Artwalk Festival Logo will feature a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor sneakers, a print created by Westville artist Allan Greenier. A crowd favorite, Greenier’s Converse portrait print appeared on ArtWalk 16 T-shirts last year.
For ArtWalk 15, 14 area artists reimagined real car doors donated by Alderman-Dow Iron & Metal Company. Though this year’s theme has a smaller “footprint,” artists are approaching the design challenge with “great enthusiasm and excitement,” according to Design Monster’s Susan McCaslin.
The first viewing of the “Reimagined Chuck Taylors” will be Friday night (May 9) in conjunction with a fashion show adjacent to Delaney’s Restaurant patio on Central Avenue; and all day Saturday in Edgewood Park during ArtWalk. To learn more about ArtWalk Festival offerings or to see the schedule of events click here.