The art of the cordwainer

Nick Eggleston jokes that he has ‘ish-shoes’ about his shoes. I try not to smile so gaze past him at one of his paintings.

It’s an amusing shoebill with a sock monkey. I can’t help it, I’m laughing.

The charming eccentric Nick has caught me again, lacing me up in his off-beat humour.

He reminds me that he doesn’t like the term ‘quirky’ being applied to his work. Lacking a replacement synonym, but with a tickled interest, I decide to ‘pur-shoe’ the topic further, asking him about his cobbling passion.

“Cordwainer,” replied Nick.

“Cord-what?” I ask.

“Cordwainer. I’m a cordwainer.”

I discover that a cordwainer is a shoemaker – the word having been introduced into the English language after the Norman invasion of England in 1066.

The finest leather was used to make the finest footwear in Europe. Cobblers, on the other hand, repair shoes, or ‘cobble together’ new shoes from old.

“Is that crocodile?” I ask anxiously. He’s holding a pair of newly-made shoes and brandishing a hammer.

“These are my Captain Hook shoes,” replies Nick.

“Cowhide embossed to look like crocodile. All my shoes are piratey.”

Suddenly, after nearly a decade of knowing Nick, it dawns on me that yes, he has a bit of pirate about him.

Also some Doctor Who, Charles Dickens, steam punk and a sense that he’s slipped through from an alternative universe. I look around, keen to find the fold in the time matrix that he came from.

“I got so busy with the painting,” says Nick.

“I wanted to diversify and do something different that was still creative, but something with my hands.”

I point out that he already does pottery and wood carving. And he paints.

“I wanted to do something different,” he explains, “so I went to Tasmania to do a five-day
shoe-making course.”

He’s now designing his own shoes, after learning patternmaking as well.

“There’s not much you can change about the shape of a shoe, as it’s obviously got to be foot-shaped,” says Nick.

“I will be doing shoe-making workshops so people can come and learn how to make shoes and come out with a handmade pair of shoes at the end of it.”

Distracted, I ask him what a particular tool is.

“It’s a heavy-duty, old-fashion jiggerjigger,” he says.

I have no idea if that’s a technical or whimsical term, but I don’t really care, as I’m enjoying watching the process. He’s skilled at sizing up a person’s foot to ensure the shoe fits.

“Made to measure,” he smiles. “I had all the men’s size shoe lasts, but it was proving difficult to make the women’s sizes. Then Auckland shoemaker Minnie Cooper closed down, so I bought two styles of women’s sizes shoe lasts from them.”

At that moment I see the pirate emblem stamped into his shoes. I look up. Nick the pirate cordwainer looks bemusedly back, a quirky grin playing across his face.