Martin is one of the last clog makers: ‘It is five to twelve for the clog’

In the Overijssel village of Luttenberg, municipality of Raalte, a group of tourists poses for the photo. They stand in front of a yellow clog, about five meters long, which is placed in a flowerbed with purple and pink tulips. Behind it is the studio of Martin Dijkman (55). The Dutch flag flies on the facade. “Really Dutch, isn’t it!” an old man shuffles past behind his walker.

Dijkman started twenty years ago as a clog maker. He learned the craft from his father, who made clogs for farmers and for Dutch fairs abroad. Martin’s own career in the clog business started abroad. His father was on a promotional tour in Japan and was very busy, so he asked his son to come and help. “And he thought I could make great clogs too.”

For example, Martin went to Japan for three weeks to support his father. There he demonstrated how the ‘real Dutch clog is made’. And he continued to do so, with great pleasure. When his father retired, Martin undoubtedly took over the company.

Making clogs is in the Dijkman family’s blood. Martin’s father learned it from his father. Grandpa was a farmer, and in his spare time made wooden shoes for colleagues in the neighborhood. The clog was the ideal footwear for the muddy farmland; after all, wood is cleaned again in no time.

Nevertheless, the blood tie is no guarantee of continuity. Dijkman has taught his two sons the intricacies of the trade, but the survival of the family business is uncertain. One son cannot continue with it for health reasons, the other prefers to deal with tourism management.

Photo Kees van de Veen

Dijkman does not need to look for a successor elsewhere in the Netherlands either. He is one of the last seven people in the country who can still make a clog manually. Clogs that are made by hand are custom made; you should be able to walk on it well. Although, according to Dijkman, portable clogs are “unfortunately” almost no longer necessary. “The true clog wearer is a dying breed.”

Furthermore, some mechanical clog makers are active in the Netherlands, who mainly produce for souvenir shops. That group is also small: according to the Dutch Association of Clog Makers, only ten are active.

‘Holland Villages’

In past years, an important part of Dijkman’s work consisted of promotional trips for the Netherlands. Together with herring fishermen, milkmaids and cheese makers, he traveled the world to promote the national product. However, the corona pandemic put an end to that, and those jobs have actually not returned. The prominent place of the crafts in Holland Villages – which gave publicity to the Dutch product at trade fairs abroad – is now occupied by companies involved in infrastructure and glasshouse horticulture. “In this way, the Netherlands wants to put itself on the map in a different way,” Dijkman sighs. His wife Marijke (58) agrees with him: “It’s a shame, because nobody likes to watch.”

Dijkman now mainly focuses on domestic tourism in his daily work. Fortunately, that has started again after “two extremely difficult corona years”. He and his wife run a shop in Luttenberg selling painted clogs and related trinkets, such as clog cookies and clog liquorice. Next door, Dijkman has a workshop where he shows groups how clog making works. During the demonstrations, which last about an hour and a half, he makes “a perfect portable wooden clog” for the public.

For the demonstration he asks about ten euros per person – biscuit, tea and coffee included. In the tourist high season, he gives two demonstrations a day. The couple can barely make ends meet. They earn about “an average salary”.

Martin would like to ask for more money for his demonstrations, but that is not possible. “It is Luttenberg, isn’t it, not Amsterdam.”

It’s Luttenberg, isn’t it, not Amsterdam

walkers

Dijkman, dressed in a checkered pink-blue shirt, blue jeans, red suspenders and gold-coloured clogs, stands behind his work table, hands on his side. In front of him are about forty people, a group from Eibergen. It is mainly gray heads at the demonstration. The rollators are lined up in a row in the retail space.

Humor predominates when Dijkman gives his demonstration. He makes a show of it, calls himself the Herman Finkers van de Klompen – after the comedian and fellow countryman. In addition to the production process of the clog, Dijkman shows various ‘historical models’. A clog with ice skates goes through the group. „The peanut butter of [schaatser] Evert van Benthem is still working on it,” Dijkman jokes. An old woman chuckles and nudges her husband. “I don’t think his foot even fits.”

The new clog is slowly taking shape. Dijkman cuts a block of willow wood into pieces and then works one of them with a pole knife, a long, sharp blade that is attached to his workbench at one end and has a handle at the other end. He cuts out the basic shape of a clog with up and down movements, with the block with the future nose leaning on the workbench at an angle. Then Dijkman places the clog in a notch in the wooden work table, after which he hollows out the space for the foot with a large drill. The work is precise: the size must be right, the foot must be able to slide in well at the heel and there must be no sharp edges in the clog. “Otherwise you will get a lot of trouble with your instep.”

Photo Kees van de Veen

Art with clogs

Once the clog is ready, Dijkman circulates the result in the group. There is loud clapping, but the “real spectacle” has yet to come, according to the clog maker. While his wife serves biscuits and tea, Dijkman disappears behind the scenes. He returns in a jacket with a picture of on the back The Night Watch† Then he walks to a large object behind a black cloth. In one go he pulls the canvas away and reveals a full-size replica of Rembrandt’s famous painting. Dijkman made these from small, hand-painted clogs. The audience reacts enthusiastically, the oohs and ahs are endless.

Dijkman got the idea to make this ‘old master’ of clogs during the corona pandemic. “I always try to come up with new plans to draw attention to the clog. It is five to twelve for the clog and this craft must not disappear.”

Dijkman requested a digital version of the canvas from the Rijksmuseum. He had it enlarged, so that he could fill in the pixels with clumps. Two years later and 30,000 clogs further, the work was finished.

Dijkman hopes that the combination of art and craft will continue to attract visitors to his studio. He now works together with the Kunstlab in Arnhem, a center for creativity. He decorates clogs with students and turns them into works of art.

Although clogs are worn less and less, as far as Dijkman is concerned, the clog will always exist. His next art project is The Milkmaid from Vermeer.