Old traditions often fall by the wayside. It is no different in the Netherlands. While a century ago the majority of Dutch people would have owned wooden shoes, this is no longer the case. Although clogs remain stereotypically Dutch, they have by and large disappeared from everyday life. Yet there are still a few safe havens for this tradition.
The International Wooden Shoes Museum was founded in 1990 in the tranquil northern Dutch town of Eelde, a few minutes’ drive away from the bustling provincial capital of Groningen. The museum is home to over two thousand pairs of wooden shoes from 43 different countries: not just from the Netherlands, but also from places as far away as Afghanistan and Japan, said the museum’s PR manager, Bertus van den Hof.
While clogs are traditionally Dutch, they come from France originally, Mr van den Hof explained. Nonetheless, he added, the history of wooden shoes in the Netherlands goes back to the 13th-14th century.
Mr van den Hof further said that the museum aims to tell stories to the visitors through the clogs. Perhaps one of the most fascinating objects exhibited is a pair of clogs from the French Pyrenees. The origin of these peaked, elegant and flamboyant shoes is rather bloody and tragic indeed.
Legend has it that during the age of Moorish conquest in the Pyrenees in the 9th century, Boabdil, a leader of the Moors fell for a local girl by the name of Esclarelys, and she ran off with the man. But the happy ending was not to be. The girl’s affianced, Darnert, enraged by the impropriety, rushed to the Moorish camp in the middle of the night and took his revenge. As he returned to his village, he wore the peaked clogs that he had made, with the torn out hearts of the two lovers skewered on either horn. Over the centuries, however, the shoes shed the tragic connotations and were mollified into a symbolic gift of love.
Certainly, in the spacious, bright halls of the museum the gloom of the horrid story dissipates swiftly. The adjacent room houses the reconstructed interior of a clog manufacturing workshop: with all the necessary tools, machines, hooks and screws and the quaint details: old-timey posters, a small antique clock and a photograph of the late Mr Wietzes sitting in his workshop.
The core of the museum was created from the private collection of the last two Eelde clog manufacturers, the sons of the aforementioned Mr Wietzes: Eiso and Egbert. As more and more of their colleagues in the Netherlands stopped production and went into retirement, the Wietzes brothers asked for a pair of clogs from each for their collection to keep safe for posterity. Following their death, the museum was opened in 1990 on its present premises.
Since then, the museum has welcomed about five thousand visitors a year from around the Netherlands and the world. While the museum is closed to visitors during the winter months, its doors will reopen in 2016 on the 1st of April with a new temporary exhibition entitled ‘Klompen – Olé!’ with 20 clogs from Spain as well as some of the oldest clogs to have ever been found in the Netherlands, which were made about 800 years ago.