Thursday, February 11, 2010


Yesterday on his show, Stephen Colbert was wearing wooden shoes to make a comical point, but it sent me in search of the history and current status of klompen, as the Dutch call them. Excavations have revealed that klompen in their current form have been in use since the 13th c. Here you can see them featured in a traditional folk dance at a tulip festival. Through long association with the Dutch, wooden shoes are sought-after tourist souvenirs and clogmaking demonstrations draw an international crowd. While they used to be crafted by hand (3rd image), they are now carved by machine - but each is still made from a single block of wood (2nd image). More than 300,000 pairs a year are manufactured from 6,000 poplar and willow trees by the largest wooden shoe factory in the world, Klompenfabriek Nijhuis, and sold for about $33 each.

According to Wikipedia, the Dutch no longer wear wooden shoes for everyday use, instead slipping them on to work in the garden. But a travel site states that they are "very much a part of everyday life" and an international newspaper proclaims that they are still worn by thousands of farmers and factory workers. In fact, klompen are officially accredited as safety shoes by the European Union and can withstand penetration by sharp objects and concentrated acid. They protect the feet better than steel-toed boots, explains factory owner Paul Nijhuis, whose wooden-clad foot has been run over by a car without incident. Here you can see them being worn by men repairing the street. Farmers wearing klompen do not have to worry about livestock stepping on their feet. A pig farmer claims to wear out 3 pairs a year. “I work in them and I relax in them. When they are worn out, I throw them into the fireplace,” he says. With the EU's 1997 certification, the tradition can continue. Says another Dutch shoemaker, the Netherlands without wooden shoes "would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower."

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