Art and Artisans: African-American Shoemakers

Shoemaker African American By Jacob Lawrence

1.  “The Shoemaker”, Watercolor Painting by Jacob Lawrence (1945)

While the work of Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000) was never oriented to overt political polemics, his painting explored—and called attention to—the most significant social issues in his community. “The Shoemaker” marks the beginning of what would become a potent subject in his work throughout the rest of his life: the representation of manual labor by African Americans.

The shoemaker’s heroic scale dwarfs the tiny shoes aligned on the workbench and hung on the walls, and overwhelms the miniature-sized room in which he works. The whole scene is organized in a flat pattern of angular elements, all in saturated color. The cobbler’s geometric, exaggerated shoulder line signals both strength and concentration of purpose. His gigantic hands—oversized even in relation to his huge frame—are central to conveying the story of his power and single-mindedness.

2.  Shoe-Makers in Lexington Kentucky, Pre-1900

The making of shoes was one of the skilled labors performed by slaves throughout the South. Once slavery ended, former slaves used the skill in their businesses that were often operated out of their homes. Later, the industrial manufacturing and mass production of shoes would greatly reduce the number of individual shoemakers.

Here the names of some African American shoemakers in Lexington, KY, pre-1900:

  • Sally A. Jackson was a shoe binder who lived on E. Short Street between N. Mulberry and Walnut. She was a free person and is listed in the Directory of the City of Lexington and County of Fayette for 1838 & ’39.
  • Micajah M. Mason was a shoemaker who lived on W. Water Street between N. Mill and Broadway. He is listed as a free man in the 1838-39 directory, and in the 1859-60 directory when he lived on E. S. Mulberry between Short and Barr Streets.
  • Edward Oliver was a boot and shoe maker. He lived at 4 E. Water Street and is listed as free in the 1838-39 directory.
  • William Tanner, a shoe maker, lived on E. Short Street between Walnut and Bank Streets. He is listed as free in the 1838-39 directory.

Sources:© 2011 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/46.73.2

http://nkaa.uky.edu/subject.php?sub_id=21

Shoe-Making during Japanese Internment

Shoemaker Japanese internment camp

“Dad had to make so many wooden getas (clogs) for our family of seven. My brothers helped saw, drill, and sand, and we girls braided the straps and knotted them through the holes. They kept our feet from getting dirty after we took our showers, and they were great for walking in the sticky mud when it rained.” So wrote the gifted artist, Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz, in her memoir “Camp Days 1942-1945”.

George Takei, in the book’s introduction, described her art which has arisen out of “girlhood years imprisoned in [an internment] camp called Poston in the desolation of a desert in Arizona.  Chizuko’s art is a powerful narrative of a shameful event in our history. It is also an evocative personal chronicle of the survival of a loving and resilient family.”

www.artbychiz.com

See also: “Camp Days 1942-1945” a memoir by Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz.

Special thanks to glass artist Caroline Jonas for this information. http://www.csjonastudio.com/

DIY Shoe-Making

Shoemaker DIY

The recent enthusiasm of the Maker Movement – tinkerers, craftspeople and cottage industrialists – has made DIY a prevalent, profitable enterprise. Further, advances in technology (e.g. 3-D printers by MakerBot) have eliminated barriers to the business boom in the basement. Even shoe-making is ripe for reinvention.

Sarah Eldershaw, a Toronto shoe-maker, developed a mail-order kit for DIY footwear.  Her “Shoe String Assemblies” are available online.  Each pack contains a needle and thread, a rubber sole, a pair of laces, instructions and a handful of leather bits. The hide (all vegetable tanned to avoid toxins) is pre-punched to make stitching easier. Unlike most shoemaking, there’s no glue involved (not even in the shipping packs, which are held together with the laces), and the design doesn’t require a last, the form required to mold most footwear.

Eldershaw’s invention, which she calls “Moxfords”, was a graduation project from OCADU (Ontario College of Art and Design University).  It was also a winner at the competition sponsored by Association of Chartered Industrial Designers of Ontario. Judges were impressed that Eldershaw wore her prototypes throughout the 12-hour event.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/home-and-garden/design/introducing-footwear-for-the-diy-crowd/article18778150/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maker_movement