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!