The Art of Slovenian Shoemaking In The Tržič Museum
Not only Italians, Slovenes too were once famous throughout Europe for their shoemaking skills, high quality shoes and great shoe design. Therefore, visiting Tržič Museum in a small town of Tržič near the Austrian border is a MUST for every shoe lover! Only an hour bus drive from Ljubljana, and you’ll find yourself in an outstanding museum, where besides shoemaking you can learn about once extremely highly developed trades and crafts of the Gorenjska region of Slovenia. Museum also houses a great skiing exhibition.
So, let’s go to Tržič!
By Marijana Podhraški
Photos: Samo Šmarčan
Tržič – the story of the shoe
It had all begun at the end of the 19th century, a period during which, every second house in Tržič had its own shoemaker’s workshop. In the 20th century, the shoes trade became more industrialized by Peko factory operating in Tržič (founder Peter Kozina). In its day Peko was one of the most modern footwear factories in Europe and one of the most respected shoe brands in Slovenia (as well as in former Yugoslavia).
Few minutes from the main bus station is the old town of Tržič. A very lovely main street with many narrowed streets will bring you to the Church of Andrew. From there a short walk up the main street brings you to the museum sign. Tržič Museum has its administrative and exhibition space in Pollakova kajža/Pollak’s Hut, once owned by the well known Pollak family of Tržič.
Tržič is surrounded by mountains and forests and is only 15 minutes drive away from the Austria borders. The area has many points of various interests to offer. At the local Information and tourist center located at Trg svobode 18, they will be happy to give you all the information about historical, geological, natural routes and trails.
The museum collections present the entire shoemaking process – from the selection of the leather to the making of a shoe. On display are a range of shoemaker’s tools, accessories, and machinery, plus documents and photographs relating to the footwear industry. The museum offers guidance by the well established and respected Slovene ethnologist and curator, dr. Bojan Knific.
Without effort not even a shoe is put on
The shoemakers of Tržič knew well the value of a good pair of shoes. From the farmers from nearby hills, to fashion and style savvy town ladies, to soldiers in the tranches accross Europe … All were aware that life challenges are easier to overcome and conquer with some proper shoes on.
Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the patron saints of shoemakers. But all that the people of Tržič knew about them was that they were born and died on a Monday. And this is supposedly the reason why shoemakers do not work on a Monday.
Shoemaker’s hands were always full of work, constantly measuring, cutting, sewing, paying attention to detail, working day and night shifts by a single light, often with little or almost no sleep. A range of footwear items was produced, including shoes, boots, sandals, clogs, moccasins. Over a short time Tržič became Slovenia’s main shoemaking town.
Tree of famous shoes
With the curator dr. Knific we move to the period after the shoe-making industry had been mechanized. Peko was founded in 1903, and its development had a large influence on the lives of the people of Tržič. It employed between several hundred and several thousand people and in its heyday it produced several million pairs of shoes annually.
Sadly, these days are now over, due to yet another story of the incompetent company management.
We make a stop at the »Tree of famous shoes« – shoes donated to the museum by some notable Slovenes. I instantly recognize the pair designed by the footwear designer Alja Viryent. In 2016, with the aim of launching a small-scale operation focused on high-end shoes, she has rented a part of the former Peko factory. The manufacture took off, but her attempt failed to spark the interest of investors.
The pair of shoes that used to belong to Helena Blagne, dubbed diva of Slovenian pop, are also there (middle), as well as mountaineer Viki Grošelj’s climbing shoes.
Tržič Museum is a special treat for every visitor
Overall, the exhibitions in the Tržič Museum paint a vivid picture of how the traditional occupations like shoemaking, charcoal burning, leather tanning, wheel-making, weaving and dyeing were performed.
With the stories and wittiness of museum’s guide-curator, one can easily forget about the time. We have! Because it is not very often that you hear, learn or have such a nice walk through the museum.
Definetely visit this museum when in Slovenia!
Click here for a virtual walk through the Tržič museum!