Learning a craft known only to a few has never been easy. I know a woman who has been seeking an apprenticeship with a bespoke shoemaker for years now, without success. The alternative is to teach yourself, the path chosen by Philadelphia's Andrew Wrigley. The forty year old Wrigley, who received his MFA from the University of Delaware in 2001, has spent the past year using published sources, videos, and periodic critiques by experts (Perry Ercolino, the world-class Pennsylvania shoemaker, has been gracious with his time) to learn to make English styled shoes by hand (the two works in the photo are both his).
Wrigley still has much to learn of course, and the going is slow. A recent pair of his shoes took eighty-five hours to make, compared to the roughly forty hours required for a pair by the London bespoke makers with whom I am familiar, and though the design is very good, as you would expect from someone with his background, the make of the shoes is not to London standards yet.
The time required to become a cordwainer, and the minimal compensation offered to apprentices during the early years, is perhaps the principal reason crafts like these have been dying out. Traditionally, most practitioners started learning their craft in their teens. The few who went on to become masters spent fifteen or more years doing so, though strictly speaking much of that time is probably more necessary for maturation than it is for achieving technical mastery.
It would be a tragedy if the great crafts disappear, in my opinion. Rich societies generally have enough people who value beauty to support the costs of making things by hand, and the expert practitioners of these arts today make a living at least comparable to white collar professionals. It is encouraging to see an artist like Wrigley enter the field and find the information he needs to learn without having to spend years as an apprentice. If he succeeds, perhaps others will follow in his footsteps. I certainly hope so.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Photos: Andrew Wrigley