Learning from the masters
I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to study with several master shoemakers. I used to travel to the Netherlands regularly for work. While searching around Leiden, the Netherlands, for something totally unrelated, I came upon J Zierikzee Maatschoenmakerij (custom shoe shop). I met the owner Ginus Nusteling. I tried to convince Ginus to come to the US to teach, but instead he put together a workshop taught by him and his retired teacher Ad Horvers at Ginus’ beautiful home in Olderberkoop. Ad still teaches a few days a month for the shoe making program of the technical school in Utrecht. The workshop they put on for me helped me significantly to move beyond the basics.
In the town of Gouda I met Mischa Bergschoff. Mischa, like Ginus, graduated from the program Ad teaches in Utrecht. Mischa is one of the most driven and meticulous shoemakers I have met. He won the best custom shoemaker award for Benelux in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011. He has generously shared his advice and critiques with me. He taught me basic foot casting and custom last making techniques and run probably the cleanest shop you will ever see.
Teaching shoe design for that same shoe making program in Utrecht is Rene van den Berg. I had the good fortune to sit in on one of his design classes in 2006 when I was visiting the Netherlands. Rene is not only a great teacher and a really nice guy, but a truly exceptional deisgner. His work is in the shoe museum in the Netherlands, but he is still making terrific new stuff. Please see Rene’s work on his site.
There was life before shoes (and after)
I had a good liberal arts education at a public university in California. My degree was in politics and Chinese language. After many, many years working on all sorts of information technology I started looking around for something different. My good friend Greg in Eugene gave me the book “Handmade Shoes for Men.” It’s a coffee table book that doesn’t tell you how to make shoes, but it tells you about how shoes are made. It was enough to pique my interest.
I read that book many times and tried to imagine myself doing such a thing. I took a week off of work to take the introduction to shoemaking program at Shoeschool.com, and convinced my boss to do the same. I felt even more drawn in and searched for shoe makers to study with while travelling for work in the Netherlands. I did ok on that front (see above).
It’s tempting to go high-tech crazy making shoes, as most shoe factories have done, but I prefer to be as sparing as possible in applying technology to my shoe making. I constantly work to improve my technique and broaden my understanding of traditional and modern materials so I can make superior shoes for you.
I’m also involved in projects not directly related to shoes. I still occasionally apply my IT skills for non-profit organizations and teach people about traffic law using animation and cartoons.
Passing it on
The outgoing and generous nature of the shoemakers I’ve met has enabled me to learn and develop the skills I have today. Together they possess a wealth of information that is extremely difficult to come by, yet they share it willingly. I strongly believe in passing that along whenever possible. Over the years I have offered free seminars on shoemaking and mentored students. You can read more about one of my students’ project here. I try to respond in a timely way to requests for general shoe making information by email and make time personally for people who have questions, projects or just want to talk shop.