The "Whys" and Wherefores"

Was your Grandfather (or Grandmother) a shoemaker? Perhaps an Uncle? Or maybe just someone you knew and remember from childhood. Tell us the story.
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large_shoemaker_at_large
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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#26 Post by large_shoemaker_at_large » Sat Oct 10, 2009 12:45 pm

Geraldine
My heart and feeling go out to you.

I have a 19 year old daughter will mental illness, and chose to walk her path. She is finelly starting to see the light of day, but at a huge expense to family emotionally and finacialy .

In 1972 my brother died of an rare heart diesease. he was 16, I was 14. The day he died my dad had a heart attack, which left him disabled. In 6 months we had a complete life change and I saw my mother stand up like a tropper during all this.

I got into shoemaking for finding a comfortable shoe for me. I also went into Nursing, Due to the conversations we had about her growing up on the praries in the 30's. Her Nursing prepared her to be a strong understanding woman.

Geradine I think you are like my Mom.

What ever religion you maybe, there is a special place in the next life for shoemakers. I hear it is really nice.

Thank you for the picture.
Regards
Brendan Balon

marcell

Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#27 Post by marcell » Sat Oct 10, 2009 1:03 pm

Geraldine,

My English is not good enough to tell you words of comfort. So I can only help in shoemaking to you - so feel free to ask me anytime, you need to. I will be glad to do so.

relferink

Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#28 Post by relferink » Sat Oct 10, 2009 2:46 pm

Geraldine,

Words will never suffice to express such a great loss nor to easy the pain of such a loss though words are all we have here on the forum. You were given an unimaginable burden to carry that you faced heads on with courage and willpower, showing what you are made off. And that just to get shoes on your daughters feet. You must be an extraordinary person as I'm sure you tackle all aspects of their well being and care with this much determination.
You are an inspiration to all of us, not taking anything for granted, well beyond the topic of shoemaking.

Please allow me to say a prayer for your daughter, that she may find as much love and care in the hereafter as she received from her mother.

Rob

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#29 Post by jkrichard » Sat Oct 10, 2009 4:30 pm

Geraldine,
I wrote this piece a couple of months ago about the 'young man' that shares a workstation with me at Green Country. While the story is about a saddlemaker, at the core of its value is something that is ubiquitous amongst leatherworkers and allied trades. Some of the details of Jim's life have been changed to preserve some anonymity.

"At the Heart of Leather"

I share a workstation with Jim. Jim is at least 45 years my senior, give or take a few years on the "plus side." Jim's what you call, "good people." Married to his wife of fifty years, a father to three grown boys, a grandfather to five. He still goes to church on Sunday, and he still herds cattle a few days a week. He's hard of hearing, soft-spoken, and his hands are rougher than most of the leathers he works with. Jim reminds me of Ed McMahon, Ed McMahon with a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, and he speaks with an Oklahoma accent---that warm voice of sincerity. He's not a particularly talented leather worker; his stitching is uneven, he fights with the sewing machines, and his tooling reflects the shakes and arthritis of old age.

But Jim loves his time in the school, and he loves his time as a student.

Last week I was taking a break and watching him work on a Western saddle. His Western saddle. He was building it from the ground up. He was stooped over the seat, shaping the wet, rough side of some cow hide. I was looking at the amount of work he put into it---Jim typically doesn't spend a whole lot of time tooling, he mostly buys saddles to repair them--- so he can resale them at one of the local horse auctions. He doesn't need the money, he's retired from Ford and did well with his money. He does it because, that's what he does. This was the first saddle I had seen him build from scratch. While he was working on it, he was smiling, and humming to himself. I knew who the saddle was meant for, but I was being clever when I commented, "Jim, I sure hope you like the fellah you're making that saddle for, all the blood and sweat you've put into it..."

Jim looked up from his work, stood tall, straightened his back. "Well, I normally don't care what it looks like. The horse doesn't see any of it anyway. But I figured since this is gonna be the last saddle I'll ever ride..."

Jim adjusted his glasses, smiled warmly at me, then went back to his work.

A good saddle will last a cowboy a lifetime. A lifetime that is if you clean it and oil it regularly.

But that's not what Jim's talking about. Jim's at least 45 years my senior, give or take a few years on the plus side. He's not a particularly talented leather worker; his stitching is uneven, he fights with the sewing machines, and his tooling reflects the shakes and arthritis of old age.

Monday through Wednesday I come in, Jim's usually beat me there. He stands tall from stooping over the saddle he's building and with a tip of his hat he says, "Mornin' Mister Jeff! How are you doing today?" And we carry on for a bit with small talk. Then Jim returns to his work, smiling and humming all the while. You see, Jim's building the last saddle he'll ever ride.

***

So why do we make shoes? In this post-industrialized age with all of our digital technology, when a factory in china can produce a set of footwear for a fraction of a fraction of a percent in less than a couple of hours than what we can do by hand?

Part of the intrinsic qualities of our species is that we are storytellers. We preserve our individual and cultural identities by relating to each other our past experiences, the narratives of ourselves and the stories of our ancestors. Within this modality of storytelling we find tradition, and the expression and preservation of tradition insures the continuance of that cultural identity--- it is the cheapest form of immortality afforded to us.

We are all a little stubborn, and some of us quite daft for pursuing this trade...but when you look past the stubbornness and insanity of maintaining a profession that has long-since been replaced by machines and technology, what you find is a sincerity, a sincerity to express who we truly are. Cordwaining is no longer a necessity, what we do is an artform, and as an artform it is about expressing who we are as individuals. The title of 'cordwainer' is an evocative one, it speaks of handtools, and leather, and working long hours by dim light.

So, at the core of this question, "Why do we make shoes," is possibly an answer: to find ourselves, or, 'to find ourselves, again.'

But that is merely one neophyte cordwainer's opinion...

Sincerely,

Jeff Richard

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#30 Post by elfn » Fri Mar 04, 2011 6:35 pm

I wish I could say the reason I build shoes is so artful and heartfelt, but it's not. I cannot get shoes that fit and properly support me. I have a very short very wide foot with a very high instep and very high arch. I have an ankle that can be difficult and must wear lifts on the outside edges of my feet in front of the heel to relieve discomfort in my knees and hips. It took years to figure out what keeps my feet, hips and knees comfortable. I've got almost half my life left. I want to be able to spend a good portion of it doing outdoors/active stuff. Without good footwear, I can't.

Nori

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#31 Post by sorrell » Sat Oct 20, 2012 6:13 am

I'm looking for quotes from boot makers; something they said that really defined them. For instance, I remember Jay Griffith always said "a cowboy boot should look like a Coke bottle or a beautiful woman" and then he'd make an hourglass motion with his hands. If there's a quote you remember from a boot maker I'd love for you to post it here.

Lisa

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#32 Post by das » Sat Oct 20, 2012 7:29 am

1) "We'd never keep a hand-sewn man who's threads drooped between stitches"--Frederich Engelke b.18??-d.1973, who started in the family's boot business in Germany(my master's master)

An exaggeration of speed perhaps, but at least we all learned never to let go of a bristle between stitches, or it was hell to pay.

2) "When a master shoemaker teaches you how to make shoes, it is not simply one person handing on their own knowledge to you, but also the person who taught them and the person before that, building generation upon generation going back five hundred years or more. This is how we preserve the tradition, and we feel we owe respect to previous generations of shoemakers by sticking to this tradition. We have been handed the standard and it is our decision to carry it faithfully and to pass it on"--http://carreducker.blogspot.com/

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#33 Post by amuckart » Mon Oct 22, 2012 3:55 pm

Lisa,

As I made the transition from bumbling amateur to reasonably skilled amateur maker of reproduction shoes, one thing that really stuck with me was DW's comment that:
"When you look at the finished product you never see the speed with which a technique was done... but you *do* see the care with which it was done."
I think I've also seen this paraphrased as "Speed of manufacture is only visible in the finished product as lack of quality"

This was really meaningful to me as I looked at extant examples of historic shoes, because it brought home that what at first glance might look imperfect can be the result of great skill working at the speeds required to make a living. When you can make a tidy seam, that's progress; but only when you can make a tidy seam fast enough to do it for a living are you starting to really get the hang of it.

The corollary to that is a realization of the sheer amount of time that goes into making a finished product as perfect as possible, and the huge commitment required of a craftsman to work to that standard.

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#34 Post by amuckart » Mon Oct 22, 2012 3:56 pm

That comment of DW's can be found at this post

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#35 Post by hidesmith » Fri Nov 09, 2012 5:45 am

I was struggling to learn to make shoes. I had spent years trying to find guidance, a mentor, someone to teach me the craft of shoemaking and had come up almost empty. I had taken apart several shoes in an attempt to ascertain how they went together. I had even made three pairs of shoes based on patterns given me by a sympathetic former shoemaker.

Interested in history, Penny and I were visiting Colonial Williamsburg. I have a friend who was a luthier at W’sburg years ago I and had been fascinated by the various crafts and trades represented at W’sburg.

We went into the Shoemaker’s shop and met this fellow who spoke with such passion about shoemaking! When I mentioned my interest in learning to make shoes, he suggested we attend a meeting at the Bata Shoe Museum the following October. He took us to his office and gave us information about this meeting and we assured him we would try to attend.

I remember my attitude as I attended the meeting – I had made three pairs of shoes, two of which were actually wearable. I was a pretty darned good shoemaker. And I was pretty full of myself. I recall my first meeting of our current HCC President and telling him of my abilities as a shoemaker. His response was that he thought we were at the same level of ability. It wasn’t until I visited his shop that I realized how much of a rank amateur I really was, or how humble HE was.

Penny and I joined the HCC at the Toronto meeting and have tried to attend whenever possible since then. I became involved in the Crispin Colloquy at its inception and have tried, periodically, to contribute as my abilities allowed.

Enjoying the spotlight as I do, I decided to present a talk at an AGM and put together an amateurish, tossed-together presentation – I’ve forgotten the topic, but it was graciously received. I have presented several times during the years, with varying degrees of preparation and have been received with equal degrees of grace and encouragement.

One thing I am impressed with at the annual AGM is the way we welcome all levels of expertise, even letting some of us rank amateurs present papers with, as aforementioned, an incredible degree of grace. We have expert shoemakers, world-class bootmakers, ‘my own feet only’ shoemakers, some who want to make shoemaking attainable to the masses, some orthotic makers and some shoe repairmen. My experience has been, these are all welcome with equal degrees. The AGM provides networking for shoemakers and leather craftsman, ancillary workers, bootmakers, tool makers and suppliers

Above all, the HCC has provided me with dear friends, encouragement, information, resources and education. The AGMs put all these things in the same place, and all of it is within reach to anyone who will offer any of the things offered above.

So - let's hear from YOU! What does HCC membership mean to YOU?

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#36 Post by dw » Sat Feb 09, 2013 7:06 am

Following up on Lisa's request for noteworthy quotes from boot and shoemakers, here's a classic...
"Passion runs deep in our trade, and to be emotionless about the work would bespeak something less that the dedication it demands-nay requires from each of us." D.A. Saguto--9 Jan. 2013


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And without the recognition that there is a hierarchy of excellence in all things, nothing rises above the level of mundane.[/center]

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#37 Post by das » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:41 am

"demands-nay requires!" if I might edit myself Image

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#38 Post by admin » Sat Feb 09, 2013 10:52 am

I'm not sure I understand but if you need to edit either PM me or have at it...as a moderator you have indefinite access.

Emmett

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#39 Post by michael_anthony » Sat Feb 09, 2013 11:59 am

"If you are a bootmaker, you've had misfits or you're a liar" Jack Reed

"I finally made my first perfect pair of boots, it was my last pair." Jack Reed [after he retired]

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#40 Post by dw » Sat Feb 09, 2013 12:45 pm

Hi Michael,

Long time no hear or see.

Reed's wrong, though, on that first one...it's too cynical. I prefer my own take:

"Anyone who says he's never had a misfit is either lying or desperately needs a new definition of fit."

Lisa's mentor...can't think of his name at the moment...said something like this:

"Ever now and again we make one that is dern near perfect."

Tight Stitches
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And without the recognition that there is a hierarchy of excellence in all things, nothing rises above the level of mundane.[/center]

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#41 Post by admin » Sat Feb 09, 2013 12:48 pm

Al,

Oh! Now I get it...doh!!

Done and done.

Emmett

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#42 Post by janne_melkersson » Sat Feb 09, 2013 3:08 pm

"On this side of heaven there will be no perfect boots and in heaven we don't need boots" Quoting my self Image

That said, aiming for perfect boots is what we can do and that's not bad

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#43 Post by homeboy » Sat Feb 09, 2013 5:02 pm

Dee-Dubb,

Jay Griffith

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#44 Post by homeboy » Sat Feb 09, 2013 5:05 pm

"We make the best boots we can. And every once in awhile, we make a boot that's damn near perfect"

Jay Griffith

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#45 Post by dw » Sat Feb 09, 2013 5:12 pm

Jake,

Yes. Thanks. Getting old ain't for sissys. When a name like that slips your mind it's like you just lost a filling--your tongue (memory) keeps poking at it all day.

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#46 Post by sorrell » Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:01 pm

Thanks everyone!

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#47 Post by dearbone » Sat Feb 09, 2013 6:57 pm

Here is another one I was uttering one day, "Not everyone with leather and thread can make shoes". Anonymous.

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#48 Post by michael_anthony » Sun Feb 10, 2013 1:34 am

"When we were forced to make boots for the Nazis, we would intentionally loosen the heels so that they would fall off in the field. It did not take long for the Nazis to discover this and they made each bootmaker write his number on the boots that he made and if a heel fell off, the soldiers would come in and pull him off the line and shoot him in the head. We still loosened their heels."

Quoting a Polish-Jewish shoemaker at Joseph Schuman's funeral reflecting on the subject of his imprisonment and forced labor during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Joseph Schuman was my first mentor and longtime friend under whom I served as his apprentice for 2 years; an apprenticeship that is a story in and of its self.

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Re: The "Whys" and Wherefores"

#49 Post by janne_melkersson » Sun Feb 10, 2013 2:23 pm

Michael
he and his fellow makers where brave guys. Just wonder if I would have the guts to do the same

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