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CLOGS

Clog-maker J. Paulauskas with his production

Clogs were worn by Lithuanian peasants from the end of the 18 th until the beginning of the 20th century. Both poor and well-to-do peasants wore them every day when working in the fields and doing their daily chores because clogs had a definite advantage – they were waterproof.
At that time clogs were made by individual clog-makers of which there were several hundred in Lithuania. Today, besides crafts companies, they are made by a few clog-makers in western Lithuania. Light and graceful, with floral motifs, clogs are given as souvenirs, and in the middle of the 20th century it became a common practice to make present of miniature clogs to be used as ashtrays or simply as decorations.

Clog-makings is like a disease

„When I was a child and my father went to the market, the only thing I wanted him to bring me was a pair of clogs. I was often left without any as there were quite a few children in the family. When my brothers ran out to skate wearing clogs, I would rush after them barefoot. My feet froze, I jumped up and done and at last, numb with cold, I ran home.” So Jonas Paulauskas, the country’s best known clog-maker, recalls his childhood.
This craftsman who lives in the small town of Telsiai in western Lithuania, makes about 200 pairs of clogs every year in a small workshop in the basement of his house. „This is hard manual work because no machinery can do it, “ he says.
The clog-maker has an assistant who does the ‘dirty’ work, namely cutting a block off the log and chopping it into several parts.
„It is important to know what kind of tree to use because not all wood is suitable for making comfortable and heavy-duty clogs. Clogs made of birch are heavy and hard, those made of lime wood are soft and tend to split. The aspen is the most suitable wood as it is strong and does not split, “ the clogs-maker says, revealing his secret.
After the long has been cut up, his assistant trims the sides of the block and the sole of the future clogs with an axe. Then the clogs-maker himself, with a 100-centimetre-long gouge rested firmly against his shoulder, makes the tip and the sole and hollows the clog. The heel is carefully trimmed with a special tool.
The size of clogs is measured by length and by height and it must be done especially carefully so that the clogs do not pinch or hurt your feet. If people buy clogs at his workshop, the craftsman carefully adjusts them to their feet.
Jonas Paulauskas decorates his clogs with great care, with carved flowers and leaves on the top and small pieces of amber.
To make the clogs shine, and also to make them firm, they are varnished. Things were different in the past when the tips were tarred or greased.
„Clog-making is like a disease for me, “ says Jonas Paulauskas. „Quite often I go to my workshop first thing in the morning after I get up and start working. My work is interrupted by a knock on the ceiling; then I know my wife is calling me to have breakfast, “ he says.
He made his first pair of clogs when he was a boy of fifteen, having learned the craft from other village clog-makers. At the age of seventeen he was apprenticed to a joiner.
„I devoted myself entirely to clog-making about 40 years ago when the first folk clog dance, the Klumpakojis, was created and many folk ensembles started performing it. The dancers needed lots of clogs. So I came to their rescue as there was a shortage of clogs then, “ J. Paulauskas recalls.
 
Clog dances
 
The Lithuanian Song and dance Ensemble Lietuva is Jonas Paulauskas’ main customer. The country’s leading folk ensemble, representing the national culture abroad, has performed clog dances all over Europe, in the United States, Canada, Japan, Thailand, India and many other countries.
„There are few other countries, for example Denmark and Holland, where people do clog dances, so our dances look most impressive and the audience always shows a lot of interest, “ says Pranciskus Budrius, art director of the ensemble.” At the end of our concerts abroad people often come backstage to took at our unique folk music instruments and our clogs.”
„Lasses – lilies, fellows – clovers, let’s tap and rap like our brothers did, “ these words open another merry clog dance. However , the most popular is the Klumpakojis during which boys find the girls’ clogs too small for them and the girls slip easily into the boys’ clogs and dance. In another, boys throw the clogs over their heads and produce the most fanciful rhythm by striking one against the other.
To avoid clogs splitting and ‘bringing trouble to the foot,’ they must be properly prepared before the dance. A pad is put inside to avoid corns. And to prevent the clog from splitting while it is beaten against the floor, a small additional sole is hammered on to it.
 
Over a million pair a year
 
It was a French and the Swiss who brought clogs to Lithuania at the end of the 18th century. Shortly afterwards their manufacture was prohibited because of a general shortage of timber. However, despite prohibition, the number of clod-makers rapidly increased. Landless peasants and small landowners as well as poor town dwellers earned extra money by making clogs. At the end of the 19th century about 1.5 million pairs of clogs were produced in western and southern Lithuania in the year.
A clog-makers used to write the size of the clog on its sole and the number indicating which pair of clogs produced within that year it was. An experienced and hard-working craftsman produced from ten to 12 pairs of clogs during a 15-hour working day. Most often he made clogs in his own home, either in the living room or in a storeroom, and in summer he moved out to work in the yard.
There were also traveling clog-makers. They were usually invited by the peasants who had large families or by the estate openers to make clogs for farmhands. The clog-maker used to spend a week or two at one place and make from 20 to 100 pairs. The owners provided him with materials, board and lodging.
Both poor and well-to-do peasants and city dwellers wore clogs every day at home and at work. As clogs were waterproof they were indispensable footwear for fishing. Fishermen used to fix leggings to the clogs to keep their legs warm. Small pieces of iron were fixed to the soles, and the tops of the boots were greased.
At the end of the 19th century, a Lithuanian introduced clogs into a Russian steelworks and built a business on it. Looking for a job, he went to Rostov-on-Don and found work at the factory there. He found it much easier to work wearing clogs rather than shoes, and that is what he wore to work. His footwear drew the attention of the factory workers and of the director himself.
On his return to Lithuania he was asked to sent them as many clogs as possible. The man bought clogs for several successive years and sent them to the factory, receiving two gold coins as profit on each pair (in 1919-1920 a gold coin was equal to one Deutschmark).
Records about the demand fat Lithuanian clogs in a chemical plant and glassworks in Riga can be found in the Lithuanian press of the first decade of the 20th century. In 1915 a forester from Lithuania set up a workshop for marking clogs in Smolensk.
After the first World War fewer people were clogs, so the clog-making business declined. The main reason for this was the increase in timber process and the decrease in demand for clogs as shoes took their place.
 
First exhibit: a little devil on a clog
 
Ipolitas Petrosius, a folk musician and teacher, whose collection of clogs numbers 900, says he does not know another collector of clogs. Over 30 years ago Petrosius asked a woodcarver to make a small devil sitting on a clog with a telephone in his hands. He presented this ‘piece of art’ to his future wife who worked as a telephone operator at the time. This was the beginning of his clogs collection.
The collection was enlarged in 1990 after the Song and Dance festival where he conducted the country polka clog dance. After the concert the performers presented the conductor-collector with lots of clogs.
Many exhibits were inherited from his relatives. The oldest clog left by Petrosius’ father was made at the beginning of the century.
„I do not like to wear clogs at home, I usually only wear them when I give concerts,” says Petrosius. He has traveled through almost the whole of Eastern Europe playing his father’s musical instrument, the bandonija (a wind instrument resembling the concertina), wearing a pair of clogs made by the clog-maker Jonas Paulauskas.

Jurate Skrebyte

 
Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial 
Board, 1998-2000
Page updated 2014.07.29 .
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