MacRostie Leathers - Custom Handmade Footwear

Handmade in the U.S.A.

by Mary Abbe
Star Tribune Staff Writer (Visual Arts Critic)

Minneapolis Star Tribune
April 12, 2002
MacRostie Leathers product line of moccasins, boots, shoes

Most of the 250 artisans featured at the American Craft Council's 16th annual show and sale this weekend in St. Paul have familiar, if not common occupations: potter, woodworker, jeweler, textile artist.

Then there are the MacRosties--Elaine and Lyle--of Spring Lake, Minn., who are bespoke cordwainers. That means they custom-make shoes, designing and fitting each pair for individual customers at prices ranging from $255 for a pair of moccasins to $1,600 for knee-high boots.

They are not cobblers, although they don't balk at that description. Cobblers repair shoes and, in times past, would even reuse leather from worn shoes to make a smaller pair of "new" shoes, Lyle said. A cordwainer, by contrast, is someone who works with new leather. Now virtually obsolete, the term derived from cordovan, a fine-grained leather originally made in Cordova, Spain.

"Originally, cobblers and cordwainers were even in different guilds," said Lyle MacRostie, who learned his craft in the 1970s from European-refugee shoemakers employed at Gokey, a legendary, now-defunct St. Paul source of custom-made boots.

MacRostie spent three years as an apprentice shoemaker at Gokey, where he inherited many of his archaic tools--specially shaped hammers and awls--from elderly colleagues upon their retirement. At Gokey he also met Elaine, who also is a shoemaker.

In the past 25 years, the MacRosties have developed an international business that they run from their studio in Spring Lake, population 20, in the Chippewa National Forest about 65 miles south of International Falls. They participate in several art fairs each year, including one at Lincoln Center in New York City and an annual rally of owners of BMW motorcycles.

They make about 120 pairs of shoes and boots annually, all of them moccasin styles, which are "becoming a rarity these days," Lyle MacRostie said. While European-style shoes are made "from the top down," with leather that wraps over the top of the foot and is stitched to the sole, true moccasins are made by wrapping leather under the foot and stitching it at the top, which gives a smoother, more watertight fit.

A world of pots

Potter Bill Gossman spent most of the 1980s in Denmark and Africa before returning to Minnesota and building his wood-fired kiln on the Little Crow River in New London, about 100 miles west of Minneapolis. In Swaziland, he and a Canadian potter had set up a pottery workshop using raw materials from the countryside: porcelain clay from an abandoned mine, a farm chalk that worked as a glaze, wood from a nearby sawmill.

After winning awards in Danish and Scandinavian events in the late 1980s, the St. Paul native returned to Minnesota and worked as a production potter, launching his own business. He produces unadorned vases, pitchers, covered jars, bowls and other functional items priced between $15 and $500.

"Simplicity is something I strive for in my work and my lifestyle," Gossman said. "There are no frills."


Art by hanging

By contrast, decoration is the core of the scenic wall-hangings designed by Lisa and Lori Lubbesmeyer. This is the first ACC show for the identical twins, who have worked as artists for a decade but only began collaborating about four years ago. After growing up in Seattle and studying painting (Lori) and printmaking (Lisa), they moved to Minneapolis in the early 1990s because "there was still a gentle manner about the art community here. It didn't seem as aggressive and stressful as New York," Lisa said.

Travels to Amsterdam, Cape Cod, the North Shore and elsewhere inspired their "lifescapes" in fabric, made by appliqueing layers of fabric to canvas as if they were blocking in colors for a paintings. Their stitched scenes, priced from $180 to $3,600, include impressionistic interpretations of Lake Calhoun, the Stone Arch Bridge, the Landmark Center and other Twin Cities landmarks.

"We pass them back and forth until we've achieved what we were looking for in the beginning -- an 'aha' effect," Lisa said.

wall hanging


Toys plus

Calling Dean Lucker and Ann Wood toymakers understates the sophistication of their carved and painted mechanized sculptures. Yet there is something definitely toylike about their work, which is poised between folk and conceptual art. Their creations include 3-D pictures and sculptures, with parts that can be activated by pressing a lever.

The husband and wife both were trained as conceptualists at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, but realized that fine crafts offered a better outlet for their whimsical creativity. About 80 shops and galleries throughout the United States handle their work, which ranges from $50 to $10,000.

Cynics sometimes have criticized as Pollyannaish their poetic, sentimental themes and sweet couples and outdoorsy characters. The charge doesn't bother them at all, Wood said. "A lot of them are about gifts or the idea that goodness, sweetness and positiveness are important in the world," Wood said. "And we want to convey that message."


© 2002 Star Tribune.
Republished here with the permission of the Star Tribune.
No further republication or redistribution is permitted without the express approval of the Star Tribune


MacRostie Leathers
51211 County Road 4
Spring Lake, MN 56680

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