Sunday, 10 June 2018

Just the Right Shoe....

....or a load of old cobblers? (Apologies to my non English-speaking friends who may need to google for the meaning of that latter phrase. Indeed, I am ashamed to say I had no idea it was cockney rhyming slang for something rather indelicate.  Hands up who knew?)

Those of you who follow this blog may remember that about this time last year I put in a window display called À la Mode which featured many dresses from an American company called Raine Willitts. I mentioned then that I also had a large collection of their shoes - no, as you will see, they are not small enough for twelfth scale dolls houses - but that a window using them would take a little time to prepare.

I did some of that necessary work before I left in October and as I am always looking for something relatively fast to replace the Christmas or Easter displays that I have left behind me on returning to the UK, this year, the shoes made the running.  (I am sorry - I have just discovered that for some strange reason, shoes trigger terrible puns.)

Since I had a collection of around forty of "Just the Right" shoes, I had been pondering the best way to display them for some time.   

It was coming across a garden planter masquerad-ing as a pair of polka-dotted green wellies that gave me the idea of a small cobbler's workshop inside the planter.   

Imagine my delight when on mentioning it to a Czech friend in the village where I live, she told me that the idea could not be more apt - Bavorov had in the past been known as the Town of Cobblers, something that I was clearly going to have to investigate more closely.

Here you can see my starting point for any project - gather together all the things you might need and then try to make order out of chaos.   To begin with I headed off down completely the wrong path.  I had a nice divided box, just the right size for shoes, but when I put them in it, they looked a bit bland.   So then I had the bright idea of using the coloured card in the shoe boxes,
which I had just unpacked, to back each division.  Unfortunately I had emptied all the boxes and put them away.   So out they all came again, and I fished the card out of about half of them - fiddly work. 

Having done that, and put them all away again, I discovered that some of the boxes contained nice historical details of the shoes inside.   So back I went on a hunt for these.   In the end, I disappointingly only found half a dozen little information leaflets.

At this point, after trying to slide the coloured cards into the divisions and not liking the result very much, I decided to go home before I started to throw things around in frustration.  

The next morning, bright and early, I set off for the market in nearby Vodnany  You have to be bright and early because it starts at 7am and by the time I usually arrive at 10.30 or so, everyone is packing up. But I was on a hunt for local cherries, strawberries and apricots so made a real effort to get there on time.  Even so, traders, including the bric-a-brac man, were already packing their boxes.  To my delight I spotted the perfect display stand on his stall, not just for now, but for future windows as well.  It took me a while to bargain him down to a price I liked - I went as far as leaving twice, then coming back and pointing out to him that if we did good business now, I was very likely to return many times....

So all that work with the divided box was time wasted but from then on the shoe part of the display went smoothly.   

Unfortunately another display stand had to be stolen from my well-organised paint storage....   

....which now looks like this again....

Once I had the display stands sorted, it was a matter of trying to work out which shoe went where. In the end I decided that I would just put them on the stands willy nilly, for size and space, and then rearrange them once I had it all in the window. Annoyingly only some of the shoes have dates on so the obvious arrangement of decades of shoe history was not available to me. Of the thirty-nine shoes, all this lot are undated 
In the end, I did manage to group all the very early shoes – a couple from the 1700s included – together, but the final display is not the same as you can see in these photos 

My bric a brac bargain

So then on to the cobbler and his place in Bavorov.    I found a bit of information on the internet about Bavorov as the Town of Cobblers, mainly the fact that in 1552 Vilem of Rožmberk, the head of the leading family of the region at that time, granted the shoemakers of Bavorov the right to form themselves into a guild, the first tradesmen’s guild of the town.  But there was little else to be found.

On Friday, as I was taking photos of the window from outside, the librarian came out of our shared doorway and admired the display.  I had the bright idea of asking her if there was any information in the library about the shoemakers of Bavorov and she reappeared shortly with a fascinating book on the trading history of the whole region.
Bavorov - Town of Cobblers
It appears that at one point there were more than 30 cobblers in the town, and they were generally amongst the better off citizens – each of them had their own house and small-holding, and also their cobbler’s workshop from which they traded.   Usually a cobbler would work on Sundays, visiting fairs and markets – one apparently came home one night with enough money to cover his entire bed!   On Mondays they took their day off – known as Blue Monday. Too much to drink perhaps?  At one point there was even a training school for advanced cobbling skills.

The only trade to compete in numbers with the shoemakers in the town were the butchers, who were even richer.  But for the cobblers it all came to a sudden end with the arrival of the mass-produced shoe, courtesy of Tomáš Baťa, who developed it when his shoe company, founded in 1894, fell on hard times. 
My mother used to ski with his son!
To begin with, some of the local shoemakers worked for Baťa but eventually, one by one, they gave up their workshops and today there is just one shoe repairer left in the town.  No more hand-made shoes here though.

Cue digression - for anyone interested in industrial history, that of the Baťa Shoe Company makes fascinating reading - the family were, like the Cadburys in England, profoundly philanthropic and treated their workers, eventually all over the world, extremely well.  

I realised when I came to put the cobbler’s workshop into the wellington boot, that I had no idea at all how a cobbler’s last looked.  Google of course came to my aid and I was much surprised to see it looks a bit like the emblem of the Isle of Man, though rather more circumspect.....  
Shapes vary, but this is fairly typical

I then also googled a cobbler’s bench and was even more surprised, particularly when I realised that the strange little low table which emerged from the attic here when I cleared it years ago, and now stands with plant pots on it in the courtyard, may well have been a primitive cobbler’s bench. 

So I set about making a last, searching through my store of bits of plastic for something likely looking.  

En route I found a clutch of these – does anyone recognise them? Something from some way back in the past, though still within my memory – a clue, they belonged to my ex-husband.  Are they still in use, I wonder?

The ideal last emerged, as things tend to out of the stash, and proved once again how necessary it is not to throw anything away.  After some fiddling about I decided that the easiest way to get different sized shoe shapes onto it was to use actual shoes and then paint the whole thing to resemble the iron one to be seen in the photos.  
I decided against making an actual bench since I rather liked the one from Jenny’s Home (Set JH8 from the range) that I was using and not all cobblers apparently just sat at the low benches.

I had a reasonably sized assortment of shoes in various scales but they were mostly black or white so I had fun painting some of them, with varying degrees of success. 
Recognise the lead Monopoly boot?
But since they were to be right at the back of the workshop I figured they would not be very visible anyway.  (Apart from anything else that shelf keeps falling off the back wall and sooner or later I will get fed up with trying to reattach it, especially now everything in front of it is glued down). 
Cobbler, complete with bowl of tiny nails on bench
Finally, “all” that was left to do was to transport the whole lot from The Stables into the museum itself and set it up in the window.   I knew that I needed some sort of back drop since otherwise the large room beyond the window detracts from the display. 

My thought was a net curtain – I have many available, the relics of a wonderful wedding day 6 years ago, in which Butterfly had a major hand, but how to drape or fix it? Then I remembered that I have excellent spring rods, meant for shower curtains, holding up all my ordinary curtains in the house - intended as a temporary measure before putting up poles when I moved in about ten years ago, and so fit for purpose that I never bothered to change them.  There was one spare pole around but would it stretch the full two metres across that was necessary? Heart in mouth, I discovered that it would, and the problem was solved.

Serendiptiously, one of the curtains in the suitcase  was not only the right pattern and width but also exactly the right length....

When I got into Small Worlds I discovered that my planned layout of tall stand in the middle, cobbler below, surrounded by bits of leather, (panic hunt for these in another large suitcase of materials) flanked by the two metal stands on either side, would not work since the new windows are divided in the middle rather than one third and two thirds.  So the tall stand ended up at the end and I think it is actually a much better arrangement. 

I apologise again for the poor shots of the window itself but I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into Bavorov’s past - and some very outlandish shoe designs.  I leave you with my thanks for reading and some close ups of the shoes themselves – I doubt very much if the Bavorov shoemakers ever produced anything quite like them!

Ending with my favourite!

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Two Great Danes - Part Two

Two Great Danes - Part One ended with the words of my sister-in-law "My mother is 70 next year..." and I could see the challenge behind the grin.  (If you have come here without reading Part One ,I urge you to pause a moment and head there first).

Those who know me well will be aware that I cannot resist a challenge, whether it be to write bad doggerel or to create something miniature.   They will also know that I am a dreadful procrastinator so although I cannot remember for sure, I will probably have thought "Oh well, I've got a whole year to come up with something" and then I will have left it to the last minute.....

Again there will be no photos of the making process as this gift too was created over twenty years ago.

Clearly whatever we were to make this time would have to be radically different from Knud's present, and I was acutely aware that quite of lot of the things in his violin case were family-related items and could not be repeated for his wife Lis.  So what might trigger a delighted response on opening? 

Haus Sonnenberg as it was when Lis and I met
My friendship with Lis goes back a very long way, over fifty years in fact, to the time that my then husband Ray and I were newly married, and working at an international conference centre in the Harz Mountains in Germany.  
How well I remember those winters!
Cue digression: The work of Sonnenberg was begun not long after the war ended, by a schoolteacher from Brunswick, Walter Schulze. He had been a refugee in Denmark towards the end of the war and he believed that one way to bring Europeans together again was through German teachers meeting those from the countries that had suffered as a result of Nazism.  

His hope was that if teachers learned  to talk to one another without prejudice, seeking to understand one another, and followed that by responsible actions, there could then be a trickle-down effect to their pupils.   To that end, in 1949, he organised the first German-Danish meeting in a hostel not far from Bad Harzburg, and it was not long before British teachers, and some from other countries, joined in similar, at the start very uneasy and difficult, meetings.

From the beginning, the four principles of the International Sonnenberg Association were "Talk together, Overcome prejudices, Understand one another, Act Responsibly"   

Internationales Haus Sonnenberg today

By the time Ray and I worked at the International House Sonnenberg from 1966-68, it it had grown enormously from its humble beginnings and we ran ten day international conferences for both adults and youth throughout the year; it continues, after some hiccups a few years ago, to the present day, though everything is much bigger and more luxurious than in our day!  

So back in 1967, it was in her role as a teacher that I first met Lis, when she brought a group of Danish pupils to Sonnenberg to attend a German/English youth conference. (The German/English refers to the languages that the interpreter would be providing).  I shall return to Lis-as-a-teacher in due course.

Once again, for me the key to any miniature project of this kind is not just considering what part of someone's life I can miniaturise, but finding the right container.

As luck would have it, I already had this kit just waiting for a project .......

Could we perhaps put what we knew and loved of Lis into a little boutique?   One founded perhaps in the year of her birth?   It turned out that we could....
The colour scheme of course chose itself - the red and white Danish flag, the Dannebrog, holds the record for being the oldest continuously used national flag in the world, and is immensely important to the Danes.   You see it everywhere, even decorating cakes and Christmas trees, and many people have a flagpole in their gardens or at their holiday home. 

No surprise then, to be greeted by a string of bunting, Danish-style, in the shop window! 

If you have a boutique - or in this case a butik - then of course you need to have things to sell in it and so we focused on what we knew of Lis's activities and their potential commercial value.   And what a lot of possibilities we found.  

Once again I say "we" because so many of the tiny items in the butik are Butterfly's work.  She also wrote - legibly - all the teeny labels, painstakingly translated by a Danish friend, Greta Freund, who never flinched at the strange phrases I was thrusting at her daily.

But where's the curry powder?
Before we open the shop however, perhaps I should take a look back at our family history - how did that meeting at Sonnenberg, and a friendship forged over fried eggs sprinkled with curry powder (don't ask!) consumed at midnight, when all our charges were supposedly fast asleep, turn into a life-long, deeply valued, family connection?

In a way, I suppose it was through our daughters. In 1971, a very young Butterfly found herself in a Danish hospital for about a week and in those days visits by parents were not encouraged. In any case, distressingly, she was in isolation and we could only communicate by walkie-talkie which she heart-rendingly tried, but couldn't really manage, to use.

Lis had issued us with a standing invitation were we ever to be in Denmark, so finding ourselves bereft and desolate, but realising that we were only about half an hour away by car from her home, we decided to spend a few hours visiting Lis and meeting her family.

Despite the situation, we enjoyed ourselves very much and in our turn we issued a standing invitation to any of them to visit us in England.  I was delighted when Mette turned up there about five years later and duly made contact with us.   

I introduced her to my (much) younger brother, and the rest, as they say, is history....

In this very blurry photo borrowed from Knud's gift, you can just make out a shy Butterfly bridesmaid peering around her new aunt, under the ceremonial wedding arch.

That was only the first of three family weddings Lis and I have attended together - it was followed in 2010 and 2011 by those of my nephew and niece and it was at the former that Lis and I looked around the room with great satisfaction and said "Look what we began all those years ago!"

So back to stocking the butik, because as you can see from the photos, we were able to fill it without too much difficulty.  

Whenever we visited Denmark, for example, we were impressed by the range of home-made jams and wines we were offered...
Jam in season, painting undertaken as well!
...though I am not quite certain why Lis is advertising her services as a "High Class painter and decorator - doors and walls a speciality" -

....because most of the doors we saw during our recent visit look suspiciously like the work of Knud!

But jams in season, definitely Lis!  
And there were always delicious home-grown vegetables as well.                                            
We had of course to include in the shop some reference to Danish pastries and delicious Danish breads though these were not home-made, but supplied by an excellent local baker, who even delivered freshly made Danish pastries (rather strangely known as wienerbrød in Denmark, which translates to “Viennese bread) to the house for our Christmas Day breakfast!

Every occasion I have enjoyed celebrating with Danes has meant the presence of the traditional celebration cake - one even arrived in England, along with Lis and Knud, for my 60th birthday party.   (I just had to post the video link - a Dane speaking English is one of my favourite accents). And who knows, someone reading this might like to have a go at following the recipe - I don't think Butterfly had quite so much trouble with this mini-version!

From the time I first met her, I have associated Lis with paper crafting. We had craft rooms on the Sonnenberg where different nationalities were supposed to make traditional items to decorate the hall for the International Evening.  
In later years I admired, though never acquired skill at, the many home-made items on the Danish Christmas tree.  We have had a pair of these, seen being made in miniature on the mat above, on our tree for more years than I care to remember! 
With the spread of Ikea around the globe we are now all familiar with the Julenisse-little red pixies who appear at Christmas, but did you know that once upon a time it was believed in Scandinavia that many households had their own "Nisse", a household spirit? Shades of Harry Potter....

My children and I benefited greatly over the years from Lis's knitting skills - there was a time when she seemed to be producing an unending stream of unbelievably light, soft and warm woolly jumpers, knitted in various shades of brown with what we have decided must be "råuld" - raw wool in English. 

There are of course such items on sale in the shop, advertised as hand-knitted to order....
The miniature knitting was indeed done to order, by Sheila Randall who, along with her husband Norman, has been mentioned many times on Cestina's Dolls Houses. 

I mustn't forget these usefully multi-purposed items, serving as table mats, potholders or even napkins, I was never quite sure....I am fairly certain there is still a full-sized one lurking somewhere since we had so many of them....

Sewing too was another marketable skill of Lis's, hence the sewing machine, handily sited for easy access alongside another basket of assorted wools - I see the butik is nearly sold out of this season's jams by the way.

And so I come back to where I started - Lis as a teacher. I cannot do better than quote the words of her daughter: "My mum was remarkable for the work she did teaching, and was basically one of the best teachers I've ever had. She was one of those who never needed to tell us off. You know the sort, few and far between, unfortunately."

Shortly after the war ended Lis and Knud together set up a Danish school on the beautiful German North Sea island of Sylt, in the little village of List.   The kindergarten portion of the school still exists today.

However, by the time Mette was in her mother's class, Lis was teaching German at secondary school, up to first public exam level, and her classes were out-performing most others in Denmark. So much so that the education department in Copenhagen sent out an inspector who followed her classes for several months because they thought she had somehow found a way to cheat the exam system. Of course, the inspector found nothing amiss, and became a great friend, very impressed with her teaching methods. Lis was then asked to demonstrate these all over the country. 

A key part of her success lay in the games she developed herself and the way she structured the lessons so that the games became an integral, self-correcting, part of the learning process, occupying most of the class towards the end of each lesson so that Lis could devote her time to a very small number of the less able pupils.  She said to me in February that if a pupil did not succeed in grasping something she regarded it as entirely her fault, not theirs, and she had to just find another way of presenting it until it worked.

One of the games made it into real-life production - a form of Happy Families (Quartet) .....
...for which Knud did the pictures.....

So that is nearly the end of the Viking Saga, parts one and two.  Writing these two posts has brought back many happy memories for me; inevitably sadly much had to be left out.   

We end every meal when there are Danes present with "Tak for mad!" (Thanks for food).   Today I want to say thanks for everything, so courtesy of google translate "Tak for alt, Lis og Knud" - I am working on your 100th birthday presents!