John the Shoemaker

My dad did a series of paintings that he titled John, the Shoemaker. 


John was a hard-working man who plied a trade that has become relatively uncommon these days: repairing shoes. Every morning, John would flip the sign on the shop door to “Open” and the customers streamed in, carrying their broken shoes - heels torn off, treads worn, straps snapped apart. Each shoe had its own distinct character, just like its owner, uniquely molded and stretched by the foot that had worn it. Each had a history of its travels, from boardrooms to factory floors; its own designation and purpose and certainly, in the eyes of its owner, worthy of repair. 


Every day, John placed the motley crew of disparate shoes on his work rack, and one by one, put them back together. Sometimes the fixes were quick and easy, other times laborious and painstaking. In the end, repackaged and shined to a gloss, the shoe was greeted by a happy owner. 


In those days, it wasn’t considered recycling. It was about respecting the fine leather craftsmanship of the shoe. Shoes used to be made with great care and with the intention that they would have a long life and great utility for their owner. Repairing them also stretched the dollar. Back then, society didn’t have the compulsion to buy new and supposedly better shoes.

 

Shoe repair was also about the process of rebuilding. In the midst of replacing worn down parts with newer ones, John the Shoemaker connected with his customers. The conversations ran the gamut, from wife and kids anecdotes to vacation and work stories. For John, shoe repair was about checking in with the neighbors. At the end of the day, after many hours at the workbench, John flipped the sign on the door to “Closed.”  For a long moment as evening settled, John gazed out the window at the life winding down on the city street. 


I like to think that those long pauses at days’ end, were satisfying reflections for John on his day’s labor of love and the many varied and nuanced conversations he had had with his customers. 


Rosann Scalise