Posted on November 29, 2011 by Indiana's Cool North
By Kath Usitalo, contributing writer for Midwest Living
In the heart of Shipshewana where there’s no shortage of talent, resourcefulness and reliance on old-fashioned handwork, there is a showplace for artisans who keep historical trades alive by hand-making useful and decorative objects.
I almost miss the subtle wooden board propped against the building announcing the purpose of the handsome two-story redbrick building on Morton Street in downtown Shipshewana. Flanking an illustration of a knee-high boot, a fancy script proclaims Boots & Shoes. Fine Leather Accoutrement & Local Crafts.
As I open the creaky wooden door of The Sign of the Boot Leather Shop and Center for Traditional Arts, it’s clear why there isn’t a neon-flashing Open sign in the window. A neatly trimmed bearded man greets visitors explaining that artisans who work in traditional methods dating to the 1800s handcraft everything in the high-ceiling gallery and studio space.
Owner and boot maker, Cliff Pequet gave the boot to his career in the field of law to make fine leather footwear, belts and saddles in styles from the 1700s to today. Clad in a protective leather apron, he works amid a jumble of hand tools, forms, and storage shelves groaning with the leathers and supplies he uses to create shoes and boots.
He established the center to preserve and showcase a wide variety of trades by a number of artisans, from metal- and woodworkers to quilters, blacksmiths, and candle and rug makers.
I resist the temptation to touch the gleaming silver and copper pitchers and platters, carved wooden utensils, and marbled papers that are on display and for sale. The selection at the center changes, but typically you’ll find an assortment of tin and other metal wear; hand-dipped candles; quilts; wooden boxes, locks, puzzles, toys and furniture. It feels like a museum—one where you can not only admire, but also take home, these carefully crafted pieces of the past. (Cliff readily demonstrates two types of wooden padlocks that have been cut away so visitors can see how the hand-carved pegs ingeniously fit together inside of the smooth wooden cases.)
Note: At times you can catch artisans at work in the center, which also hosts occasional traditional music and storytelling performances. The center is open Monday through Sunday year-round.
The Center for Traditional Arts
160 Morton St.