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An Artist's Sole Purpose

For shoe collector Rita Pearl Lerman, art really does imitate life.

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Rita Pearl Lerman an artist and shoe collector surrounded by a few of her 200-plus pairs

Rita Pearl Lerman, an artist and shoe collector, surrounded by a few of her 200-plus pairs.

Photo By Mary Thull

When Rita Pearl Lerman signed up for an art class 15 years ago, she had no idea she was about to embark on a footwear odyssey. Given an assignment to paint a still life, the Minnetonka, Minn., resident looked no further than her own wardrobe for inspiration. “I had a closet full of shoes,” she said, recalling her collection of more than 200 pairs.

Starting with shoe drawings, Lerman quickly moved on to paintings. “I could make them fun, funky and sophisticated,” she said, about the design liberties she took with her own footwear. Hooked on her new hobby, Lerman began licensing her artwork to be used on footwear and accessories by Icon Shoes, in Burbank, Calif. She has worked for Icon since 2003, most recently creating images for the brand’s spring ’09 Shoe Garden collection. In addition, Lerman also designs greeting cards, posters and pillows, which can be seen on her Website, Ritapearl.com.

Pairs owned: “About 238. I keep losing count.”

Brands: Bottega Veneta, Bruno Magli, Chanel, Christian Louboutin, Cole Haan, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Icon, Isaac Mizrahi, Manolo Blahnik, Michael Kors, Pucci, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Robert Clergerie, Roberto Cavalli, Salvatore Ferragamo, Sergio Rossi, Stuart Weitzman, Tory Burch, Vera Wang, Walter Steiger and Yves Saint Laurent, among others

Types of styles: “Knock-out, beautiful glittery shoes, both high heels and flats; boots, from high-fashion to cowboy; casual flats and loafers; sneakers; and flip-flops with Swarovski crystals.”

Collecting since: “My collecting has been ongoing for the past 25 years or so. And, oh my, the number of shoes I’ve donated to make room for new ones ...”

Oldest pair: “Close to 20 years ago, I was really into alligator and crocodile. I was in Bergdorf Goodman in New York and saw a pair of Manolo Blahnik low, wide-heel slingbacks in croc. Classic and beautiful to this day, I still love wearing them.”

Most cherished pairs: “My Icons. My proudest moment was seeing my shoe art on Icon’s shoes. Also, in Boca Raton, Fla., I [bought] a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti heeled sandals and two pairs of Roberto Cavalli shoes. The Zanottis have a toe ring and instep strap covered in green and blue crystals, complete with hand-painted heels. The Cavallis are stilettos: One has leather lacing across the toe, and the other is detailed with a leather-and-metal ankle closure. Two years ago, when my husband and I were in Italy, I found in Lucca a pair of Pedro Miralles dark-purple suede shoe-boots with a rounded toe and an open vamp — very sexy. In Positano, I stumbled on soft leather ballet flats in every color you could imagine. I scooped up pairs in black, hot pink and chartreuse. But probably my most cherished find was in Capri: gorgeous cowboy-inspired distressed-leather boots with Swarovski crystals and fringe around the ankle that just brushes the ground. They’re by Valerio Giuntoli, who designed boots for the TV series ‘Deadwood.’”

Favorite shoe motto: “‘There’s so much space between a woman’s heel and the floor that one can use,’ by Bernard Figueroa. I own a pair of Figueroa’s soft lilac suede slides with colored crystals across the toes. Simply elegant.”

Storage and organization strategy: “My closet used to be a bedroom. It has two large windows, so it’s light and airy. I have 93 built-in shoe cubbies. Of course, there can never be enough cubbies, so in most of them I put two or sometimes three pairs.”

Moment I knew I was a shoe fanatic: “I realized that I always enter a store and pass right by the clothing and cosmetics and head directly for the shoe department — every time. After all, I am a shoe artist, always researching my next painting and looking for my next unique treasure.”

Pair I’m wearing right now: “I’m flying home to Minneapolis from San Francisco. I am in the comfort of a pair of my Italian leather ballet slippers. Classy, comfy and just perfect.”

Dream shoe: “A strappy high-heel ankle wrap in black suede with a garnish of crystals sculpted on the toe of the shoe that wink and sparkle with each step.”

Celebrity closet I’d love to raid: “Heidi Klum’s. She’s sophisticated and elegant, and her shoe closet would reflect that.”

Favorite shoe-shopping spot: “I’ve purchased a lot of my shoes from Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis. I had a great shoe saleswoman (who has since retired) with a great eye and knowledge for classic shoes that weren’t too trendy. I own a lot of great shoes based on her recommendations. I love shoe shopping, so no matter where I am, or what city I’m visiting, I’m always on the lookout for shoes.”