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Retired Engineer Developed New Hobby

Demonstrations of 'Klompenmaker' Popular with Spectators

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

PETERBOROUGH, Ontario - Turning a block of wood into footwear has developed into a most interesting hobby for retired GE engineer Jack van Winssen. Since 1990, 'Jack the klompenmaker' has acquainted tens of thousands of North Americans with the centuries' old Dutch craft at an impressive number of fairs and shows. The demonstrations are very popular. Using a variety of traditional hand tool to gradually create the familiar wooden shoe. Van Winssen often downs his tools to field questions or pose for pictures or video footage. The hobby has taken him all over North America as word of mouth and newspaper advertising resulted in invitations as far away as Oregon.

Since Van Winssen is the only Dutch-born wooden shoe maker on the continent to take the craft to the public, he was urged to teach others by way of offering work shops. A number of these day-long sessions have since taken place. In addition to a printed outline, a recent video enables work shop participants to review the techniques at any time. Just last month, Van Winssen conducted a two-day work shop at Lynden, Washington.

Prior to Van Winssen's availability, local NBT tourism bureaus and KLM occasionally brought an artisan from the Netherlands to conduct public demonstrations of the old craft. Now Van Winssen fits that bill. Before machines took over production in the Netherlands, thousands of part-timers turned out wooden shoes to earn a few extra guilders. In fact, many Dutch farmers supplemented their income by making and selling footwear during the winter months. In recent decades, the wooden shoe trade relies more on tourism then on customers using it for work wear. Automation has also cut down the number of factories still making wooden shoes.

In North America the trade has always been a novelty of sorts. Dutch immigrants brought the craft with them but modern work wear and work site regulations have all but eliminated wooden shoes out of the picture. North America's only wooden shoe factory, located in Holland, Michigan, turns out clogs solely for the tourist trade. Van Winssen's decision to try his hand at making wooden shoes was prompted by a magazine article he read in the mid 1980s, several years before he retired from his job. Subsequently, a friend scoured rural areas in the Netherlands for tools.