Head over heels

Lillian Montalto Bohlen distinctly remembers the day that she wore her fabulous black leather knee-high boots to junior high school. “All of my classmates were making fun of me. They told me I looked like Santa Claus,” she says. “But by the following year, everyone else was showing up to school with them.”

20160264_0021-Photo_Credit-Kathy Tarantola

Lillian Montalto Bohlen seated in her personal walk-in shoe closet. Photo by Kathy Tarantola.

All her life Montalto has subscribed to the belief that shoes hold special powers, unlike any other piece of clothing. “To me, shoes really influence the mood that you are in. Some make you happy, some make you feel confident and strong and sensuous. Others make you want to prance,” she says.

“I never have and never will be a sneaker person. I think it sets an attitude when you have a heel on.”

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain includes 11 boots and 15 pairs of shoes from Montalto’s extraordinary personal collection, along with a photographic re-creation of the walk-in shoe closet and separate boot closet found in her Massachusetts home. It’s not the first time works owned by Montalto have been on view at PEM. Lillian and her husband, Robert, assembled the premier collection of contemporary wood art featured in Audacious: The Fine Art of Wood from the Montalto Bohlen Collection, in 2015.


Shoes: Pleasure at Pain at PEM. Photo by Allison White.

Like the pieces in the wood art collection, Montalto says all of her shoes are different, designed with a variety of shapes, textures and colors. And the footwear comes from all over the world — France, Italy, Spain, Austria, Hong Kong, Brussels and throughout the United States. “Every time I travel I buy boots or shoes from the places I visit.”

Most people tend to buy an outfit and then shop for shoes. Montalto takes the opposite approach. “How many times have you had a special occasion and tried to find shoes to match your outfit? You never find them. When I see a pair of shoes I like, I always buy them even if I have to wait two years for the right outfit to come along … it always come along,” Montalto says.


Lillian with PEM Chief Philanthropy Officer, Amanda Clark MacMullan, and Marci Johnson at the EIMA preview of Shoes. Photo by Kathy Tarantola.

20160415_0086-Photo_Credit-Kathy Tarantola

At the EIMA preview for Shoes: Lillian Montalto Bohlen (far right) alongside the photographic recreation of her personal walk-in shoe closet in the exhibition. Photo by Kathy Tarantola.

Montalto, who owns a successful real estate business, gets dressed each morning by selecting the shoes first. “If sometime during the day I know I’ll be with a more conservative client, then I go that route. If I am meeting someone more adventurous, I have other options. You kind of dress the part.”

Based on her experiences, the shoes on a person’s feet send a strong message — in business and in pleasure — about their priorities. “All of the young people who work for me have been taught to dress professionally and have well-polished shoes. As you know, you only have one opportunity to make a great first impression.”


Lillian talking shoes with fellow collector, Jimmy Raye, and Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director and coordinating curator for the exhibition. Photo by Kathy Tarantola.

Explore the creativity of footwear from around the globe in Shoes: Pleasure and Pain, on view at PEM November 19, 2016 to March 12, 2017.

One Comment

  1. Brenda cocozziello says:

    I am so excited about viewing this display. I hope to get there this weekend

Leave a Comment