Leather learning process

Liesel Swart, Ben van der Linden and René van der Berg, Dutch Health Tec Academy lecturers at the three year course ‘Ambachtelijk Schoenmaken/Craft Shoe Making’, invited Inge Specht (curator of the Dutch Leather and Shoe Museum in Waalwijk) and Liza Snook (owner Virtual Shoe Museum), to review the shoes made by their graduation students.

Blog by Inge Specht, curator of the Dutch Leather and Shoe Museum in Waalwijk

‘Come and have look’, Ben van der Linden said last Tuesday, while I was spying on the floundering third year students of ‘Ambachtelijk Schoenmaken’. ‘I teach them to create shoes and they come up with wonderful things!’ That was all I needed to follow Ben, running on my stiletto’s through the hallway of the Dutch HealthTec Academy in Utrecht.

Liesel Swart invited me to review the exams of the third year students on June 12th. Every year it’s quite exciting to see what students are able to make after three intense years of education. Most of the exam candidates were still finishing their work, like the last two years before.

While lasts were being removed and laces being tied, I followed Ben to another classroom where the tension was considerably less. A few man and women were at work with multi coloured upper parts, some using brogue technique. ‘They’re doing good, right?’, Ben said proudly. Indeed it was looking great. ‘Are these first or second year students?’, I asked a lady with an ankle boot that included a funny application of a zipper. ‘Oh, but we’re not in the three year program’, she said, ‘we are only attending the six day course !

How can somebody learn to create a shoe in only six days!? I was stupefied. But these students proved this can be done! They really take care of all aspects, from designing to creating the lasts. They draw the patterns for the designs, they cut the parts, stich the shafts, prepare the upper leather and add heels and soles. And voila: after six days you can wear your selfmade shoes? Talk about cool…

Meantime it was around five. Time to review the work of the exam candidates. Most students had to be separated from their work with force. Never quite satisfied yet. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes not. And sometimes it’s the other way around: students are pleased, but the exam committee is not. The committee included Liesel, René and Ben as the teachers, and Liza Snook of the Virtual Shoe Museum and me as external experts. Both upper and lower parts are to be reviewed. The patterns are inspected as is the stitching quality. We reviewed whether the upper parts were correctly pinned on the lasts. And if soles and heels were properly attached, and, not unimportantly, if the shoes are a perfect match! That’s a disadvantage of shoes. If you finish one, you still have to create another one, and mirror it exactly. And this is extremely hard.

What’s also hard, is to judge all that work. It’s like you like or dismiss someones own child. At least, it feels that way. A complicating factor is that students are free to create their own design for their exam. But since the course is focussed on the craft, and not on design, there is sometimes a gap between creativity and the challenge in creating. So creativity is not rated, but the challenge in creating does count, when shoes are not perfect. You tend to forgive some flaws better if the student has taken great chances in the design and production proces, rather than taken the easy way out. A simple design is accepted, but should be executed perfectly. I think students might profit when they have to perform similar exam projects. This way, you can better judge the progress someone has made in three years! And progress it is, since shoe creation is hard. But also a magnificent job.

Currently we have quite a few courses for shoe design and creation. At the Dutch Leather and Shoe Museum we like to pay attention to that. In the coming months we will exhibit much work by students at the museum. From June 28th on we will host dozens of shoe designs from various courses and institutes under the title Leerproces#2012

Of course we’ll host shoes by students of ‘Ambachtelijk Schoenmaken/Craft Shoe Making’. But we will also display designs from all years of the ‘Academy of Fine Arts in St.-Niklaas, Belgium’. Some days later, these will be accompanied by the shoe objects of the self educated Christian Inski. He has just finished high school but has been designing shoes for years now and is determined to become a professional.

Finally the three Master students from the ArtEZ institute, Amber Verstegen, Deniz Terli and Jenna Lievonen will show their final collection starting september. Enough eye candy this coming months at the Shoe Museum. I’m looking forward!

More information
Dutch HealthTec Academy
Dutch Leather and Shoe Museum, Waalwijk

Review of the exam shoes by Inge, Liesel en Ben, postbag boots by Titia Keuning
Images by Virtual Shoe Museum.