The Truly Custom Shoe

Renowned cordwainer (shoemaker) Molly Grant offers classes in crafting your own unique pair of shoes.



Cordwainer Molly Grant (right) assists pupil Virginia Eddy

No two feet are the same — including, by the way, the two at the ends of your own legs. This fact is most apparent to those who must spend a lot of time on their feet and then spend even more time seeking out shoes that are both stylish and not painful to wear.

That’s what brought Virginia Eddy, a trauma surgeon (and professor) from the emergency department of the Maine Medical Center, all the way from Cumberland, Maine, to Deerfield, New Hampshire, to spend four days custom crafting a pair of shoes for her own two unique feet.

Eddy was hard at work on just that during a recent morning in the Cordwainer Shop at Wild Orchard Farm, the Deerfield home and workshop of Molly Grant. Grant has been a professional cordwainer (shoemaker) since the 1990s, when she was trained in the craft by her late husband.

On a high workbench next to a colorful array of rolls of soft leather, Eddy tooled a channel around the top edge of one sole. She had come a bit overprepared, even bringing plaster castings she had made of her feet.

“We didn’t need those,” says Grant, standing nearby to offer assistance. “We have plenty of lasts.” Lasts are hardwood forms that allow a shoe to be pieced together in the proper shape.

Left: A completed pair of shoes and the forms used to make it on a workbench at the Cordwainer Shop
Right: This Victorian-style boot was carved and dyed by Claire Renaud, a local artist who is apprenticing with Molly Grant.
 

Eddy’s design choices, the colors and textures of the leathers she would use, were displayed before her, but her quest for the perfect shoe had little to do with style. As a trauma surgeon, Eddy is sometimes on her feet for 72 hours at a stretch. She says she chose dark leathers “because, you know, the blood doesn’t show.”

Grant’s workshop is itself a work of art, with century-old equipment sharing space with objets d’art and samples of leather craft from her personal inventory and from previous students and apprentices.

Grant’s house is comfortably furnished, filled with rustic designer touches and bedecked with paintings, photos and sculptures that she loves, along with tokens from artists and friends who love her. Outside a window, looking out of place in the snowy landscape, wanders a solitary peacock, named Pharaoh.

Wild Orchard Farm has been many things over the years and is still a popular Airbnb destination, but for the most part, Grant likes it to serve as a place for her students to stay while they learn the craft of shoemaking.

She currently offers four-day classes where two students arrive on a Tuesday and settle into their rooms. They eat and sleep at the farm, designing, cutting and stitching until Friday when they add heels and finishing touches. They depart refreshed and enlightened, wearing a pair of shoes they made themselves, just for their own two feet.

Class fees include all materials, instruction, meals and lodging at the Wild Orchard Farm. Workshop prices may vary depending on the style of shoe chosen and length of stay. Advanced Victorian bootmaking classes are also offered, with a prerequisite of completing a previous cordwainer workshop.

More About Molly Grant

In addition to teaching at her studio, Molly Grant also offers her expertise to students at craft schools around the country. If you’d like to see some of her creations in their proper context as works of art, her handmade shoes will be included in the Smithsonian Craft Show, the most prestigious craft show in the country. The 36th annual show features 120 premier American artists chosen from more than 1,000 applications. It runs from April 26-29 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. For more information, visit smithsoniancraftshow.org.

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