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What is a Ten Footer and Why do I work in one? PART 2

Interior of the Saboteuse Ten Footer Boot Shop in Wakefield MA

The absolute severing of our contemporary ties to the footwear history around us in Massachusetts is a wound I attempt to heal with my creative practice every day.

It is tragic that I, a girl from Lynn, was so divorced from the history of our PLACE that I didn’t know what a Ten Footer was. I eventually had to travel to London to Cordwainers College, and then commute to Gardner in the middle of the state to learn bootmaking. Massachusetts’s footwear-making history and its rich context is important to understanding many facets of our society today. We may have not only exported our innovation in mechanized footwear production but also legacies of inequity in our footwear-making systems. These connections to our past matter!

Back to my Ten Footer in 2014: although no one seemed to care that using a shed as a workshop was a Zoning violation but me, I set out to structurally right that wrong using examples of Ten Footers in our history and artist studios to defend my argument. I began to redraft our Zoning Bylaws with “Art/Craft Accessory Use” language, and embarked on over a year of research to support passage of this new bylaw at our New England Town Meeting (spoiler: it passed!). Thank you to the Awesome Foundation for supporting that effort! These connections to our past matter!

Doucette Ten Footer - Stoneham MA Historical Society & Museum

This research opened wide a path into the past that enriches my bootmaking practice today. For years I have studied Ten Footers, their tool collections, their stories. I have engaged with the public at historical societies and in schools, shared stories with elders who worked in shoe factories and hosted visits from shoemakers who come from afar. Every interaction sparks a new connection, a new way to understand how our histories might inform the futures we want to establish.

Ten Footer Shoe Shop at the Brocklebank Museum Georgetown MA

While there are only a few Ten Footers left in Massachusetts, and only some of those preserved, each has its own character, its own stories. It is my great pleasure to get to know these old work spaces, to put the puzzle pieces together from their tools and archives to understand what affects critical craft knowledge in all its complexity. It is a joy to know the people who dedicate their lives to preserving the past. We have different goals but work so well together to help each attain her aims.

This is an Introduction. Follow along with me on this rich, rewarding journey to understand relationships between architecture, work spaces, Place, craft, knowledge, people, hierarchies, history and all the beauty and the pain that defines the human story through footwear.



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