Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 5

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Cuban-born furniture and interior designer Clara Porset is best known for her modern designs inspired by the local traditions of Mexico, her adopted homeland. Her many design interpretations on the “butaque”, a low, graceful type of chair, part of Mexico´s popular culture, was her trademark. In a similar vein, an ancient Mesoamerican sculpture inspired the look of her “Totonaca” chair, considered a landmark of Mexican furniture design.

Totonaca Lounge designed by Clara Porset (1958)

Allegedly, Porset won one of the four prizes for Latin America in MoMA’s 1941 “Organic Design for Home Furnishing” contest, but actually Xavier Guerrero (her husband) received the prize in New York. She was committed to fine craftsmanship, but she was equally a strong believer that well-designed furnishings could be made affordable. In the 1950’s she signed a contract to develop 2 collections of furniture for the office, along with numerous other designs for prestigious furniture manufacturer IRGSA (Industrias Ruíz Galindo, S.A.). These collections were highly successful and mass-produced for many years. Among her most applauded achievements is the outdoor furniture she designed and showed at the 1952 “Arte en la Vida Diaria” exhibition at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City. Later, IRGSA manufactured them for the Pierre Marqués Hotel in Acapulco, in 1957. Her work was widely produced by DM NACIONAL, DOMUS, S.A., Ruíz y Govea, etc. On the other hand, among other design flops were the low cost furniture designs for Mexico City’s first large-scale public housing project (Centro Urbano Miguel Alemán), where she furnished less than 10% of the units. Unfortunately, some of the chairs sold to the Pierre Marqués Hotel were also removed pretty fast for a lack of ergonomics (you needed help/pulled to stand up). Also she collaborated with some of the most representative Mexican architects of her time, including Luis Barragán, Max Cetto, Enrique Yáñez and Mario Pani among others.

Arte en la Vida Diaria Exhibition, Palacio de Bellas Artes (1952)

Edmond J. Spence was an American designer who made a career out of translating international modern styles for the U.S. market. Spence designed a successful blonde wood line made in Sweden and imported by Walpole Furniture of Massachusetts, and another furniture line called “Continental-American Collection“, which was manufactured back in 1953 by the Mexican furniture company Industria Mueblera, S.A., with the brand label “Industria Mueblera of Mexico – Ageless Furniture Edmond J. Spence Design”.

Spence’s design brilliance comes in with his ability to interpret the most important aspects of Mexican design but in a fancy Mid-Century Modern way. Below I have put together some samples from his “Continental-American Collection”:

American born Michael van Beuren was a former student at the influential Bauhaus school in Dessau, Germany during 1931-1932, even though he did not graduate. He moved to Mexico in 1937 and having difficulty to practice his profession as an architect without an official title, he dedicated himself to the design of furniture. In 1938 he started to design furniture together with his colleague from the Bauhaus time, German designer Klaus Grabe, for a small company they called Grabe van Beuren y Cía. In 1941 the MoMA organized the “Organic Design for Home Furnishings,” a competition which opened to design teams from Latin America. One of the winning entries in the contest was a Chaise Longue designed by the team Klaus Grabe, Michael van Beuren and Morley Webb. The winning submissions earned the prize of having their designs industrialized and sold by the Bloomingdale’s department store. Grabe soon left Mexico to settle in New York where he ran Klaus Grabe Inc. and pursued his quest for modern low-cost furniture.

Van Beuren founded DOMUS – his first furniture brand – and probably his best known in Mexico. In 1950 Fredderick T. van Beuren, Michael´s brother took over the workshop production envisioning the company´s growth potential to become a mass producing furniture factory. At that time the company dropped its name DOMUS to become Van Beuren S.A. de C.V. By the mid-50’s Van Beuren, S.A. de C.V. was already mass producing complete furniture lines and models. Clara Porset manufactured her designs for the US market through Michael van Beuren´s Company.

British architect Philip Guilmant, who had arrived in Mexico in 1954, joined the Van Beuren team in 1957. He greatly contributed to the success of the company with the design of 2 very well-known furniture lines: the Danish Collection (1957) and the simple and economic Pine Line (1958). By that time, the company was producing around 50 chairs per week… The Van Beuren brothers helped re-shape interior design across Mexico with mass produced industrial and affordable furnishings that found their way into countless homes and offices. Besides DOMUS, Van Beuren produced other furniture lines that were also very successful like Calpini (1951) and Decapóls (1961); the last one became very popular when marketed at the El Puerto de Liverpool department store chain. Production lines extended as well to other store chains like Salinas y Rocha and El Palacio de Hierro. However, in 1973 Michael Van Beuren sold the brand and factory to Singer.

…to be continued in part # 6

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 4

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William Spratling was an American-born silversmith and artist, best-known for his influence on 20th century Mexican silver design. He established a model for the artistic development and growth of the silver industry in Taxco and deserves the title “Father of Contemporary Mexican Silver”.

Spratling visited Mexico for the first time in 1926. He returned for summers over the next several years, and in 1929, he finally moved to Mexico. He quickly integrated himself into the Mexican art scene and became a friend and a strong proponent of the work of muralist Diego Rivera, for whom he organized an exhibition at the MoMA in New York. Using money received from commissions he organized for Rivera, Spratling purchased a home in Taxco, southwest of Mexico City. In 1931, the US Ambassador to Mexico, Dwight Morrow, suggested to Spratling that the city of Taxco had been the site of silver mines for centuries, but had never been considered a location where jewelry and objects of silver were designed and made. Subsequently, Spratling hired an experienced goldsmith from Iguala who moved to Taxco and created silver jewelry of Spratling’s design. Other craftsmen joined Spratling’s shop and produced tin ware, copper items, textiles and furniture – all designed by Spratling. These earliest designs were based on pre-Columbian motifs as well as simple themes utilizing rope borders, strap designs and other such basic ideas. He often adopted the stylized animal motifs found in Mexican pottery and incorporated native materials such as amethyst and rosewood into his designs. The workshop grew far beyond Spratling’s expectations… By 1940 Spratling employed 300 artisans and Taxco had become a major tourist destination for those seeking silverwork. He began to export silver items to U.S. department stores including Neiman Marcus, Macy’s and Saks. Ironically, the 1940’s boom in Taxco silver production ultimately led to the downfall of Spratling’s company “Spratling y Artesanos”, which by 1946 went out of business. In 1951 Spratling founded a new company—William Spratling, S.A. and continued to work throughout the 1950’s and ’60’s. His designs were also produced by the Conquistador Company in Mexico City for a couple of years.

When talking about Spratling´s highly appreciated furniture designs, Marilyn Monroe was among the celebrities that purchased his furniture pieces. Spratling’s silver designs have always been copied but now, perhaps because of the higher prices Spratling’s name commands I have seen an increasing number of William Spratling attributed furniture pieces.

Don S. Shoemaker is in my opinion the most remarkable representative of Mexico Modernism furniture design. Don and his wife Barbara settled down in Santa Maria Guido, Morelia in 1951. Don began producing wooden items, including jewelry pieces, hand carved bowls and decorative accessories, as well as some early rustic furniture designs made from hardwoods grown in the local mountains. The first couple of years were less than easy and in 1955 the Shoemakers were forced to leave the country; their small enterprise became a cooperative which soon after was closed. Their life project continued when the Mexican government invited them to return to Morelia and the furniture workshop SEÑAL, S.A. was founded.

Don left us an unrivaled aesthetic legacy through his furniture designs; he developed his very own identity and style which remained evolving throughout his whole career maintaining the principles of high quality hand-craftsmanship and the intensive use of native Mexican exotic woods. His organic forms were unmatchable by any other furniture designer of his time. During his more than 3 decades of dedicated work Don designed a significant number of iconic furniture masterpieces, all produced in hardwoods, which he favored for their inherent strength, durability and magnificent beauty:

•Organic designs: the most unique “Scissor” Sling chair (an armchair with folding braces), his “Sloucher” and “Swinger” Sling chairs.

•Rectilinear designs: the “Parsons Line” including suites for every room.

•Coffee table designs: the “Cuerno”, “Sling” and “Descanso” coffee tables.

•Dining room set designs: the “Sling” dining room set, cabinets and sideboards.

•Lounge and living room designs: the “Descanso” set and the “Pernos” Lounge set.

•Progressive designs: the famous stack-laminated “Diamond” desk and tables.

Below are some pictures from my personal Don S. Shoemaker collection, a look into the Shoemaker mood when you have a home completely furnished by our master:

Don´s heir, George R. Shoemaker, takes over the company in 1990, after Don passed away. However the decision was taken to liquidate the company SEÑAL, S.A. and George formed a new firm with the name “ARRENDADORA SHOEMAKER”. George continued reproducing Don´s designs under this new label; he improved some of Don´s furniture lines and he developed some own new furniture designs. One of George´s masterpieces are his iconic Bar Sets produced in cueramo, he only made a limited edition of 5 of them. However, I will not present at this time any pictures of this magnificent Bar Set to avoid future forgeries.

Unfortunately, George´s health declines extremely fast and production activity goes to almost zero. George passes away and the workshop finally closes in the early 2000’s. Many George R. Shoemaker furniture pieces are copied and sold as “Don S. Shoemaker originals” not recognizing George´s talent and contribution to his Dad´s work. He was a great designer by his own right. He had a restless mind and he also experimented in Art Nouveau, Art Deco and even English XIX Century styles.

Po Shun Leong is an artist, former architect, sculptor and furniture maker. Of Chinese origin, Leong was born in London and lived in Mexico for 15 years. He arrived in Mexico in 1964. For several years, he practiced architecture, designing a series of large furniture stores, residences and commercial exhibitions. He developed many furniture designs and was awarded an Honorable Mention in the Knoll International Furniture Competition, 2 Gold Medal Awards for fiberglass furniture in the IMCE, (Mexican Export Competition) and two 1st prizes in the low cost furniture competition.

In the early 1980’s the Leong family immigrated to Southern California. He set up a studio in his garage to produce prototypes and taught himself woodworking. He became known since the late 1980’s for his highly intricate and inspiring one-of-a-kind wood boxes that have been enthusiastically acquired and are in many museum collections. Po Shun has created at least a 1000 boxes and one-of-a-kind furniture objects. Lately he has been experimenting with bent plywood forms to produce affordable furniture.

I already published some posts on Po Shun Leong’s stay in Mexico, and his friendship with Don S. Shoemaker (see Don S. Shoemaker and Po Shun Leong Parts 1 & 2 and Mexican Design exhibition at the MAM in 1975 – Part #3).

…to be continued in part # 5

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

Mexican Modernism – Furniture Design in Mexico – Part # 3

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José Mendoza was a Mexican designer who ran a foundry in Mexico City under the registered trade name of “Pepe Mendoza”. The Mendoza “taller” produced brass decorative hardware, extravagant lamps, some tables and bronze accessories. His work is characterized by a cloisonné-type/enamel technique, Mendoza´s designs were mostly based upon pre-Columbian motifs which he modernized to conform Mexican and international tastes. Several modernists like California designers Jerome and Evelyn Ackerman and Mexico City based American designer and sculptor Frank B. Kyle used Pepe Mendoza´s hardware to embellish their furniture pieces during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Beware of fakes and copycats, always look for the genuine Mendoza foundry mark!

Coffee Table by Pepe Mendoza (1960's)

Arturo Pani was the younger brother of Mario Pani, a prominent Mexican Modernist architect and editor of the magazine “Arquitectura México”. Both Mario and Arturo entered the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Mario was inclined toward architecture and Arturo chose decoration and interior design. Both brothers returned to Mexico City by 1934. Arturo’s first project was the furniture design and decoration of the family house. Mario’s first major project was the construction of the Hotel Reforma in Mexico City in 1936, which became the emblem of Mexican Modernism. Arturo Pani was given carte blanche to design the furniture and interiors of the lobby and several salons of the Hotel Reforma. (Diego Rivera created the murals for one of the dining rooms).

His studio Arturo Pani D., S.A. was active in Mexico City well into the 1970’s. Arturo Pani was “the” decorator to the elite of Mexico and known for creating the famous “Acapulco Look”. Pani did not actually produce his furniture designs by himself; he worked with several outsourced artisans and selected workshops. He had a preference for gilded iron, which he used extensively for the design of his coffee tables, console tables, lamps, etc., these designs where produced by the blacksmith workshop of Manuel Chacón – the Talleres Chacón in Mexico City. Some of Arturo Pani’s well-known designs include furniture pieces decorated all over with mirrors; however few of these remain in good condition.

Robert and Mito Block were born in France and migrated to Mexico in the late 1930’s and worked through the 1970’s. They were known for their Neo-classical style with a very sober air toward modernism. Besides being painters they had a decorating and design showroom in Mexico City known as Rob Block & Cía. Their work is characterized by Greek-key motifs and tapered forms, primarily metalwork, sometimes with verre églomisé elements. Same as Arturo Pani, the Block Brothers used the Talleres Chacón blacksmith workshop in Mexico City for the execution of their designs.

 

…to be continued in part # 4

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

 

Mexican Design exhibition at the MAM in 1975 – Part #3

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Po Shun Leong´s story (Part #3) on his acquaintance with Don S. Shoemaker in Mexico since the 1960’s and how this friendship impacted his career.

So, how did Po Shun Leong come to Mexico? Here is his humorous narrating:

“It was a serendipitous accident. Actually I was not sure where the country was, as it was not part of the former British Empire. We were mostly taught about the British colonies then. My (high) school in England was run by Quakers. They were involved in many social projects. After college the American Friends Service Committee asked me to volunteer in constructing a community building for the Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine. I replied “Send me anywhere else but Maine.” So they sent me to Mexico to live in a remote village in Tlaxcala on the side of “La Malinche” mountain. There was no water, electricity or road. I lived for a year with the volunteers, helping to build a 110 meter deep well by hand, a library, a bridge, veterinary services. The local priest called us communists in his church sermon and the police did a raid in search of drugs, but none of us smoked or consumed alcohol and the villagers supported our presence and taught us some Nahuatl. I became padrino to several children. This experience was THE introduction to Mexico.

I worked in the Cultural section of the Olympics. I was assisting Susana Esponda, Director from the Festival de “Pintura Infantil”. Children from participating countries came to Mexico to paint large murals that were exhibited along el Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. Pedro Ramirez Vazquez took a close interest in this event. We used to practice painting methods and display in the patio of the architect’s home in El Pedregal with guidance from the muralist Jose Chavez Morado.”

And here are some interesting images from the Exhibition of Contemporary Furniture that Po Shun Leong helped to install with Prof. Alfonso Soto Soria in the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM) back in 1975 whilst living in Mexico.

Side by side Po Shun Leong and Don S. Shoemaker presented some of their furniture pieces at this 1975 “Exposición de Diseño Mexicano” in the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM), Mexico City. Here you can see Don S. Shoemaker´s wood furniture and some of Po Shun Leong´s contemporary fiber-glass chairs:

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

Don S. Shoemaker and Po Shun Leong–Part #2

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Po Shun Leong´s interesting story (Part #2) on how he met Don S. Shoemaker in Mexico since the 1960’s and how this friendship influenced his career:

In 1981 we left Mexico and settled in California just before the deep recession began. It was as though life had stopped still. I lost contact with Don.

In California I began making little functional band sawn boxes from off-cuts or locally found wood, like Don’s “Organic Design Box”. We spend many a weekend selling our handicrafts in local craft fairs. Gradually with more confidence, the work evolved to beyond being merely functional becoming dramatic in expression as one-of-a-kind objects, inspired from the legendary places of the world such as Uxmal, Machu Picchu or Rome.

Two of Po Shun Leong´s fantastic boxes are shown here:

The Ancient Ruins Box:

The Landscape Box:

Thanks to Don’s earlier encouragement and direction it only took a few short years to become a completely independent studio furniture maker in the Los Angeles area. My work has been shown in the top shows, galleries and is in various permanent museum collections.

The Pasadena  Console:

In 1989 or 1990 I was exhibiting my work in a show organized by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC when an elderly man in a wheelchair came into the booth, accompanied by a woman, his daughter. He looked around and saw my name on the wall and remembered me from years back. Not long afterwards he passed away. His daughter purchased one of my art furniture pieces in his memory.

Last year I had the opportunity to participate in the “Vida y Diseño en Mexico” exhibition with some of my furniture from Mexico and was especially honored to be in the same place as Don.

Po Shun Leong

http://www.poshunleong.com/ptang.html

P.S. I remember Don saying that he was good friends with the Cardenas family, especially Lazaro Cardenas. I used to be in friendly contact and work with Doña Amalia, wife of the ex-president and her sister Virginia. They had a home in Tacambaro. Doña Amalia headed a charity program in Oaxaca which she visited every year and I had designed and made hundreds of children’s furniture that she donated to the nurseries. I accompanied her in those trips. When I hurt my leg they gave me a walking stick to get around on. I still keep the stick in my car,  just in case.

Copyright © 2010 – 2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

Don S. Shoemaker and Po Shun Leong–Part #1

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It is an honor to present my guest writer, the world known artist Po Shun Leong and his interesting story how Don S. Shoemaker inspired him to start his career in woods craftsmanship over 30 years ago.

Po Shun Leong, former architect, sculptor and furniture maker, known since the late 1980´s for his highly intricate and inspiring one-of-a-kind wood boxes. The “Landscape” box, a constantly evolving series since 1983 – more drama than box – is architectural in character and built up of many different woods in their natural colors, inspired from ancient or legendary civilizations. The flamboyant sense of shape, surprise and presentation combined with his initial struggles in Mexico has created a following for his art worldwide. He keeps his studio in the garden of his residence in California and he continues to make elaborate wood objects and a line of  sculpturally-inspired furniture pieces.

Po Shun Leong´s remembrances on his wonderful friendship with Don S. Shoemaker since the 60’s while he lived in Mexico are described here:

Don S. Shoemaker was very influential in the way my career turned out. His work inspired me to break free to become an independent wood artist in California thirty years ago. It was a pleasure to see Don’s creations again on your web site”.

In 1967 when I was working with C.A.P.F.C.E. the Mexican Federal school construction program in Morelia, Michoacan, I rented a small apartment at the Villa Montaña, in Santa Maria de Guido. As an architect, I designed 27 primary schools in places like Apazingan, Caolcoman, Aquila, Patzcuaro etc. and traveled on horseback over the remote mountains of the Pacific coast before there were any roads.

Since I was a near neighbor to Don S. Shoemaker’s SEÑAL company at the top of the hill, I was able to make friends with him and his wife Barbara and also get to know the factory and their designs. Don was the first person who I had ever met whose furniture set off my mind into the possibilities of what to do and where to go in the future. It had to be furniture. He had a large showroom with many samples. I could only afford a couple of objects, a rectangular tray of inlayed wood which I still treasure here in California. The other was a donkey stool for friends who had a little boy.

Don’s work was an inspiration for me especially in the design of functional objects, many of which were free from the constraints of traditional styles and methods of construction. I especially appreciated the way you could tell that the hands of makers were expressed in the shapes and surfaces and the efficient use of machines that enabled the products to be available at reasonable prices. We talked mainly about making furniture, machines and wood; just practical things.

When I began to make furniture independently in Mexico City in the early 1970’s, I sought a more distilled and purer form, some of which were handmade whilst others were mass produced. I made wood dining chairs, sling chairs and even plastic ones all in a contemporary style and received awards from the government and in the Knoll International Furniture Competition.

Here are some of Po Shun Leong´s wood furniture pieces made in Mexico during the 1970´s:

The Tulum leather set from 1974

The  Chamela chair from 1975 The Hacienda Set 1976

And the Duveen dining chair from 1979

 

to be continued….in Part #2

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved.

@donshoemaker.com

Don S. Shoemaker furniture pieces at Museums

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During past years Don S. Shoemaker´s work has been presented at several Mexico Modernism designer exhibitions. Worth mentioning: “Vida y Diseño. 125 años del diseño en México” (Life and Design. 125 years of design in Mexico), which took place at the Palacio de Iturbide in Mexico City from December 2009 until the end of February 2010. This exhibition showed a selection of Don S. Shoemaker furniture pieces among works by other 20th century Mexico Modernism designers. Although I was disappointed by the poor research work done about Don S. Shoemaker, the furniture pieces on display were dated to have been produced during  his childhood in the 1930´s and 1940’s…. Don did not establish himself in Mexico until 1947, later he made acquaintance with precious woods  and he became so fond of them that he moved to Morelia,  Michoacan marking the beginning of his production of furniture pieces in tropical woods until the early 50´s.

Also the Museo de Arte Moderno (MAM) in Mexico City presented some of Don´s furniture pieces in their exhibitionLa colección: las rutas de la abstracción. México 1950-1979 (The collection: routes of abstraction. Mexico 1950-1979). The collection included works of Carlos Mérida, Mathias Goeritz, Manuel Felguérez, Vicente Rojo, Helen Escobedo, Arnaldo Cohen, Michael Van Beuren, Don S. Shoemaker, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, among others. The exhibition closed in October 2009, but since then a ScissorSling” chair produced by Don S. Shoemaker in the 1960´s is part of their Mexico Modernism designer collection.

This original folding chair is made in solid cocobolo wood with nicely worn black leather upholstery. You may consider a weekend visit to the MAM to study this wonderful Don S. Shoemaker furniture piece.

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved

@donshoemaker.com

Shoemaker´s “fun” pieces

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The "Conversation" pieces

These are the Don S. Shoemaker “Conversation Pieces”,  produced in volcanic pine heartwood by SEÑAL, S.A.

I have only seen very few of these rare pieces in many years. This line was truly original!

These samples were taken from a SEÑAL, S.A. catalogue that Dick Shoemaker was very kind to make available to me.

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved

Don S. Shoemaker´s Biography

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Coming from an affluent family, Don was originally from Nebraska. During the 1930´s he studied at the Fine Arts Institute of Chicago thinking to become a painter. After the end of WWII, he married Barbara and felt in love with Mexico on his honeymoon, he finally decided to move to that country in the late 1940´s. He lived for a while and painted in San Miguel Allende, Guanajuato, but finally he settled down in a little uphill town called Santa Maria de Guido, overseeing the city of Morelia, in the state of Michoacán, Mexico.

Don and Barbara´s love for nature inspired them to install a greenhouse and collected more than 5,000 orchid specimens. Here in Santa Maria de Guido, Don began the manufacture of his furniture in tropical precious woods and other wood products. What started as a little factory in the late 1950´s called SEÑAL, S.A., grew to the point where Don employed more than a hundred skilled craftsmen. Soon Shoemaker became an important milestone of the economic and cultural life of his adopted home. SEÑAL, S.A. brought great wealth and economical boost to the village and Don was well known for his good heart and charity projects.

Don S. Shoemaker delivered furniture pieces to his showrooms in Chicago, Los Angeles, Houston and large cities in Mexico. His designs were very much appreciated by wealthy Mexican families which had complete sets decorating their haciendas and luxury homes.

Due to the expensive manufacturing costs on his tropical woods design pieces, his company, SEÑAL, S.A. profited from the installed equipment to produce a commercial line of colonial style furniture in pine and white cedar for hotels and government offices, etc. The legend says, that his factory used to work 24 hours a day.

During his marriage to Barbara Don had three children, but his son, George, was the only one involved in the business. When Don passed away in May of 1990, George took over and started reproducing Don´s designs under the label of “Arrendadora Shoemaker”. Unfortunately, George was called by God in the early 2000´s and the company disappeared.

Copyright © 2010-2017 Karin Goyer. All Rights Reserved

@donshoemaker.com

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