In a tiny dark shop somewhere in Soho, New York, sits a thin, weathered, woman in her 80s doing what she’s been doing for the past 50 years. Creating sandals with her bare hands. Okay, she uses tools. But when reading about her in an article, I was fascinated and intrigued and really wanted to reach out and talk to her. Meet her. Anyone who can stick to one craft for so long and be successful at it, and master it, is rare (to me). And I find the amount of resolution and dedication necessary to commit to one craft, year in year out, fascinating. In my own personal struggles to focus on a single field within my set of skills/talents, I’ve come to discover how much determination and conviction is necessary. How do I know that this one 'craft' will keep me inspired, pay the bills and be relevant to the masses years down the line? Or even now?
So, on my recent trip to New York, you can bet that Barbara Shaum and her little studio were high on my To Do list. Locating her shop was difficult and to top it all off, it was the end of a scorching hot day, of which I had spent almost entirely walking all over the city. I was exhausted, hot and sweaty, yet determined. As luck would have it, she was indeed in her shop just as I imagined (and hoped) she would be.
Here's what I thought I'd see - a sweet, elderly, warm lady who is absolutely delighted and honored by my visit, who would then insist I sit right next to her. I'd drag an old wooden stool to her work table, and we would engage in a long and endearing chat, maybe even a nice cup of tea would be served. Maybe cookies. (Which I would politely decline, they probably wouldn't be kosher.) Followed by loads of inspiration (for me) and lots of words of advice and encouragement (from her).
However, that was far from my experience. As I advanced toward her she looked up reproachfully (I was fully oblivious to her body language at that point in our strange ensuing exchange.) I introduced myself and the reason for my visit, yet her only response was a curt and cautious “Yeees?” to every sentence out of my mouth. At this point something in my subconscious was alerting me. 'Red alert!'. 'Abort mission!'. So I asked with the last shred of dignity I could muster, if I could at least have a photo with her? To which she responded emphatically “I knew it would come to this!”
Well, gee, now that’s not at all what I had in mind! I hadn’t even realized how much I was expecting of her, until later when I was able to collect my thoughts. And really, who can blame her? Just because she is running a successful business (her sandals run from $400 and up!) and just because she’s written up about in magazines, doesn’t mean she wants annoying tourists coming up and bothering her.
As for the sandals - they looked just like they should. Dark supple leather soles about an inch thick, custom shaped to each clients' feet, in a variety of styled straps. The tiny brass nails are in plain sight, embedded in the soles, giving the sandals a true handmade appeal. I would have snatched up a pair in a heartbeat. Even after my world came crashing down on that hot, sweaty day in Soho.
(photo sources: top - Inbal S., bottom - www.cherrypatter.com)