This week, Paul Krause from Prescott, Arizona sent me his information for his expose on Custom Boot Makers. Thank you very much Paul for your wonderful story and your contribution. Please visit his website at http://www.noazleatherworks.com and watch his promotional video on YouTube.
When did you start making boots and how did you get into the craft?
My contact with leather goes back to Cub Scouts, followed by a few “Hippie” style projects while in the Air Force. But it wasn’t until discharge from the USAF in 1971 that my footwear experience began. Being of a “back to basics” mind set, I walked into a shoe repair shop and asked for a job. I worked for that family for 9 years. I remember a pair of Tony Lamas that had been abandoned by a customer. They were a size and a half too big for me, so I chopped the toe off, made some alterations to the involved components, moved it back and reassembled it to be my size. It was a terrible job, done all kinds of wrong, but it was a beginning.
From there I moved on to a No. Calif. boot shop that was doing repairs for the big factories during the “Urban Cowboy” days of the early 80’s. They couldn’t make boots fast enough, so we were used to do warrantee work for their Western store customers. We were asked to do much more than just basic full soles and heels, but additionally many and varied alterations and modifications to Western boots, like wing tips and foxings on the toes of boots to cover dog chew damage. We called them “doggy dinners”.
I made my first pair of boots while working there in 1982 with some oversight from a retired shoe maker who had never made cowboy boots, but who helped me through a “How-To” book from a Texas couple, Joe and Jerry Wise, who were selling it through our Shoe Service trade magazine. It was another 10 years before I made the next two pair at my own boot and shoe repair shop in the California Bay area. By this time I had a tutorial by boot maker DW. Frommer, whose system and perspective I use now. But I still didn’t always know what I was doing, and realized that the unsupervised learning curve was going to be too distracting and difficult while still trying to raise my family. It wasn’t until 2000 when we moved to Prescott AZ., that I was able to devote myself to the journey of learning the trade.
What do you enjoy best about boot making?
I think I would have to say it is the challenge. My teacher says that “boot making is a matter of muscle memory, while learning to fit is a lifelong study”.
There are steps, like fitting up a last, that are arduous, and difficult to get right. But the connection in my mind that I form with the customer while so engaged in that sculptural step, gives me a satisfaction that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, which is to serve people with the skills I have.
There is great satisfaction in the fulfillment of a dream for the customer, and it’s the process that gives my life richness and a flavor I could not get any other way. I am a boot maker.
How would you describe your boots in three words?
Simple, Clean and Out-of-the-Box.
Who has been the biggest influence on your boot making?
That would be DW Frommer, of Redmond, Oregon, who set out years ago to learn boot making so well it could be taught and learned with repeatable results. It is that kind of commitment to learning that made the biggest influence on me. A three week course with DW gave me the boost of passion I needed to proceed in the craft. But I’ll also include the ‘shoulders of other giants’, that is to say boot makers of the past, whose work I have had the chance to learn from the inside by the many boots I have repaired over the years. Not just big factories, but the classic smaller operations like ML Leddy, Olson Stelzer, and Rios of Mercedes. These boot makers made boots in a tradition I respect. And one I strive to model my own self.
What lessons did that person teach you?
The most helpful thing DW ever taught me was to ‘always-only-ever’ find three things to improve on with each pair I make. Fewer than three would be to fool myself. More than three is masochistic.
Do you consider boot making an art form?
I do as long as the “a” in art is lower case. I reserve “A” for fine art which I know but little about. To design artistically beautiful boots, simple or fancy, one certainly needs an understanding of the fundamental artistic elements of design; like texture, flow, repetition, negative space, etc. That’s what makes them artistic. But it takes a capital C for Craftsmanship to really express what the form relies upon. A plain black calf boot, made with careful attention to detail, will always look better than a boot full of colors, inlays and ‘geegaws’, which is poorly constructed. We might also say boot making is an art form from the view point that, like an artist working outside of the box, the rules have to be learned and understood first, before true creativity can be attempted.
What lessons of life has boot making taught you?
Joseph Campbell said that ‘life reveals your character; you learn more about yourself as you go on.’ I’ve found the same to be true of boot making. Patience and good intentions have gotten me through many tests, when I might have wanted to take an easy way out. And I’ve also learned that sometimes the only way to get through a difficult spot is to be totally present. And a complement is better answered with a simple thank you.
Have you made boots for any celebrities?
Well, not the kind people like to hear about. I made a pair for a US Senator, but to me the real name dropping would be the several people who have had me make 4 and 5 pair for them. I know they appreciate what I have done for them, which is always an unknown with celebrities. But then to be honest, if I did make for celebrities I would name drop also.
Do you have any favorite stories about making boots or a particular client?
Actually I have stories for most of the boots I’ve made.
One is of three sisters who came in together, two of them in support of the third. The Mother had passed away and the customer wanted me to make a pair for her like the Christmas ornament the Mother had given her.
Another customer was the seventh person to ask if I made the 2 piece, full cut style boot worn by Civil War Calvary officers that is so popular among the Western re-enactment crowd. I told him what I had told all the others, that the first person I made those for would be one who was willing, not only to pay my price, but split the cost of the special crimp boards, which are instrumental in accomplishing the shape for the style. Well, finally this one fellow said he was in. He is a reenactor, and had his wife’s Grandfather’s boots from 1906, which were of this style, and he wanted boots like these with a more modern spin. I have now made two pair for him.
I never did charge him for the boards. I just wanted someone to believe in me.
But I think my all time favorite is when I resized a pair of Horn Back Alligator boots for a bride. Her Father had passed away between her sister’s wedding and her own, and having inherited his boots, she wanted them resized to fit her to wear “down the aisle”. It was a very emotional outcome for all involved. And the gratitude ran deep.
Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of boot makers?
“Do a lot of work”. There is a great essay by Ira Glass from NPR on YouTube on this point. Besides learning how to assemble all the parts and learning where the “controls” are, there are many tools that have to be learned and mastered to be a boot maker. There are sewing machines that have to be understood, and finishes and treatments for leather. It takes a lot of ‘boots under the bridge’ to develop an eye for where improvement is needed. And that never stops. There is plenty of help from the experienced boot making community. But since they need to see that you are making progress, I will also add, “Show your work”.
Make a commitment to stick with it, show some grit, be the best you can be, and you’ll get all the help you could want.
Once again…visit Paul and his shop at http://www.noazleatherworks.com