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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


When I first heard about Galina Grigoryevna Zharikova's shoe collection, I imagined a closetful of good quality designer shoes like that of Goldie Hawn's character in the movie "Overboard." I even recalled those wooden drawers from the movie perfectly constructed to accommodate dozens -- maybe even hundreds -- of pairs of shoes.

But I soon realized my imagination had not gone quite far enough.

Zharikova, a professor of microbiology at the Moscow Plekhanov Academy, has over the past 25 years become the owner of nearly 1,000 unique souvenir shoes of different sizes, shapes and designs, made of ceramic, metal, wood, plain glass, crystal, fine china, plastic, leather, fabric, fur and birch bark.

It all started in 1971 in the Crimean resort town of Feodosiya, where Zharikova was captivated by a ceramic sculpture of an old, worn-in boot with carelessly tied shoelaces. Now it bears a label with the reverent caption "Item No. 1."

Then came vases and ashtrays, goblets and cups, wine glasses and candlesticks, money boxes and pencil boxes, pendants and earrings, brooches and pins -- all in the shape of boots, shoes, sneakers, ballet slippers or sabots. They came from almost 30 countries, including Russia, China, the Middle East, Western Europe, mostly as gifts from traveling relatives or close friends who were aware of Zharokova's hobby.

As a true collector, Zharokova records each "shoe" with the date and place of acquisition as well as the "shoemaker's" name and country of origin. Whether it is a small replica of valenki, or felt boots, from Russia or a slipper made at the Gardner factory, a well-known Russian ceramics factory, in 1828, each item in Zharokova's collection is given a lot of care and even tenderly loved.

The sizes of the shoes are also diverse, ranging from 1 centimeter-long Russian lapti, or bast shoes, to almost half-meter-long oversized shoes used for an advertisement by a shoe shop in India.

Zharykova didn't think of showing her collection to anyone but her relatives and close friends until 1987, when she got acquainted with a woman who collected saltshakers and was a member of the Rarity Club, which unites owners of nontraditional and unique collections of historical and cultural significance.

Zharykova joined the club that year, and through it she met collectors of military music, rare editions and memorabilia of "Alice in Wonderland," replicas and images of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and many other unusual things. They all were united by the desire to share their collections with each other and to publicly display the treasures that they had privately cherished for years.

Zharykova has had some success bringing her collection into the public view. She had a personal exhibition at the Museum of the History of Russian Enterprise of the Russian Economics Academy, took part in the Third All-Union Festival of Folk Art "Collection '90" and was awarded with a diploma and a silver medal from VDNKh, the Exhibition of Economic Achievements.

Zharykova continues to seek new items for her collection. Her biggest dream is to obtain one of Margaret Thatcher's shoes.

Today Zharykova's collection gathers dust in boxes in her apartment in southwestern Moscow. She remains active in the Rarity Club, organizing gatherings of eager collectors, and hopes to have more opportunities to show her beloved shoes to the world.