Art & Earth Trail: Meet a Modern-Day Shoemaker

Custom shoemaking pretty much is a thing of the past. Many of our childhood storybooks described happy shoemakers or tired but busy cobblers and their furry friends or little elves secretively emerging from their hideaways to assist in finishing the projects.

Cliff Pequet, modern-day shoemaker, most likely doesn’t have nocturnal pals helping, but on his own, he can make an amazing shoe, boot, or even a saddle.

A Rare Artform
Cliff represents one of only five traditional custom shoemaker communities remaining in the United States. Having been part of a variety of arts communities and surrounded by historical museums most of his life, he stumbled upon Shipshewana after discovering eight local saddle shops and three coach builders who continue to custom make their products.

Pequet uses a variety of exotic leathers to create each piece. “Leather is a very [tactile] material,” he explains. “Taking it from a flat, one-dimensional piece and shaping it, forming it into a three-dimensional item is very satisfying.”

He also enjoys dealing with customers, getting to know the public, and meeting a need for someone with a hard-to-fit foot.

If the Shoe Fits…
“I used to work with some pretty famous folks, re-enactors, filmmakers, thespians, people in the entertainment industry. I now deal with not-so-famous folks and still get a lot of joy from helping…. Like the 18-year-old boy who came in needing a size 18 shoe. You just can’t go out and buy a standard shoe in a size 18.”

You don’t have to have a hard-to-fit foot to have Cliff make a shoe for you. He will take circumference measurements, build up the form, stretch the leather, sew on the bottom sole and heel, and make a shoe for you that fits like a hand in a perfectly-sized glove.

Buyer beware, however; you will NEVER go back to purchasing a standard shoe once you wear a shoe that has been custom-fit to your feet. There’s nothing like a custom shoe. Not even exotic chocolate can evoke the kind of joy a custom shoe can elicit.

Says Pequet, “I am amazed at the number of people from Europe, South America, and Asia who have found this little town and wander into the shop. They’re attracted not just to the fit of the shoe, but also to the history and purity of the art.”

Center for Traditional Arts
Cliff also heads up the Center for Traditional Arts. In his shop on Morton Street, he showcases local tradespeople and their products who, “for the most part, used to be all over the United States,” he explains. “Shipshewana is a town where people still make wheels or horse collars. Drive around the county; you see these tradesmen still at work.”

Upcoming Opportunities
Many of those trades people set up shop every now and then in Pequet’s shop. On the Friday, Saturday, and Monday after Thanksgiving, Heidi Finley will teach the art of marbling, which Cliff describes as a “600-year-old art that used to be in the front and back of old books. Heidi always attracts quite a crowd.”

Throughout the winter, Pequet also plans on hosting other trades artists, including shaker box makers, weavers, and coppersmiths.

Where?
The Sign of the Boot Leather Shop and the Center for Traditional Arts is located on 160 Morton Street, downtown Shipshewana.

Open year-round, Monday-Friday, 11 am-6 pm, Saturday 10 am-7 pm.

Cliff can be reached by phone at 574.596.1022.

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