Bob Siegel Jr., a
Mequon resident, is one of a handful of people who have the
skills to carve wooden shoes. At age 90, he and a master
apprentice still travel regularly to festivals and other
Photo by Dave Fidlin
It started as a hobby. Then it became a business.
But at 90 years old, Mequon resident Bob Siegel Jr. is handing the
reins of his wooden shoe carving business off to a new emerging
Siegel, who once appeared on the PBS program “The Woodwright’s
Shop,” learned the art of wooden shoe carving through authenticity
in the 1970s. He worked alongside master shoe carvers in the
Netherlands. He made several repeat trips over the years.
“At that time, I was simply interested in keeping the art of wooden
shoe carving alive,” said Siegel, who sold life insurance at the
When he retired in 1990, he decided to head into post-retirement by
carving shoes on a nearly full-time basis, making creations in his
basement and visiting a variety of different festivals and other
venues locally and nationally.
Siegel’s hunch that master wooden shoe carving is at risk of
potentially going extinct can be backed up with statistics. A
century ago, there were about 4,000 wooden shoe carvers in the
Shelves in Siegel’s studio display his handiwork.
Photo by Dave Fidlin
When Siegel earned
a formal certification from mentors in the Netherlands,
the number of professionals in the marketplace was
notched at 57. Today, Siegel said, the number has
whittled down to three.
While Siegel rarely carves shoes himself, he remains
involved in the business he created, Crafts Museum. He
has a journeyman and master apprentice, Oostburg
resident Luke Traver, who travels with him to different
shows. The duo has a number of shows planned this year,
locally and nationally.
Siegel said he routinely enjoys sharing the ins and outs
of shoe carving with spectators. While a high degree of
precision, skill and patience are needed, only three
tools are used to convert a block of wood into a
sculpted masterpiece that can form around a man or
Traver and Siegel crossed paths in 2007 and began a slow
transition that continues to this date. Siegel said he
is grateful knowing he is able to mentor an emerging
As he closes out his career, Siegel cannot help but wax
“It’s fun to do, and it’s really not that hard,
physically,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed entertaining
people, and that’s mostly what this is about. It’s
unique, and I’ve discovered people enjoy and appreciate
Meeting people at a range of events, from nearby Cedar
Grove’s annual Dutch festival to annual pilgrimages to
Old World Wisconsin, is part of what Siegel said has
inspired him to continue carving shoes for four decades.
“This is something I’ve truly enjoyed, and I’m glad I’ve
been able to make it into a semi-career over all these
years,” he said.