A West Coast shoemaker with a deep respect for the shoemaking traditions of Europe, Thomas Wandall brings an artist’s eye and a craftsman’s touch to his trade.
A founding member of the Footwear Makers Guild, Thomas is proud to be part of a growing number of artisans reviving the craft of making shoes by hand, one pair at a time. He has studied with—among others—Jef Mandel of ExIT Shoes in Portland, Oregon, and with Bill Shanor of Bonney and Wills in Ashland, Oregon.
Tom’s appreciation for well-made footwear grew out of his more than a dozen years repairing climbing shoes and hiking boots at Marmot Mountain Works in Berkeley, California. Then, in his own repair shop, Tom continued to learn about shoe construction, and began making custom leather sandals and other small leather goods. He was greatly inspired by the leather sandalwork of the late Barbara Shaum of Greenwich Village, NY, and by the arts and crafts movement, and by all craftspeople around the world who pursue excellence and authenticity.
In addition to studying with master shoemakers and personally taking apart and repairing thousands of shoes, Tom credits some surprising influences on his shoemaking. Thomas first picked up a guitar as a toddler imitating his dad. He has played in several bands and keeps acoustic and electric guitars at hand in the shop.
Tom explains it this way: “In shoemaking and music, it’s all about proportions and rhythm. There’s a parallel in the grace of a line on a shoe and in a line of a note. There are rhythms in the shop, too. The sound of my hammer, the sewing machine, the click of a needle against a thimble. For a sensual person like me, the feeling of the leather in my fingers is really important. Playing guitar keeps my fingers limber and keeps me out of my head: running a business, thoughts of family, commuting, bills—to get to a mental place to do the shoe, it helps to exist in a place of pure art.”
Thomas’s lessons in art began in an unusual place, too: at his sister’s softball field, where, as a kid, he helped his dad paint advertisements for local businesses on the perimeter walls. After high school, he attended Hussian School of Art in Philadelphia, where he formally learned the principles of composition, proportion, and color under painter Virgil Sova.
The mountains drew Thomas to California, where he plunged into becoming thoroughly Californian: learned about wine, began practicing yoga and aikido, went on Zen meditation retreats, took to the streets to protest wars, learned to rock climb, welded art bikes, hiked the John Muir Trail, summited many peaks in the Sierra, attended Berkeley City College and the California Institute of Integral Studies.
“Shoemaking is the culmination of a lifetime of diverse experiences,” says Tom. “It’s taken a lifetime to get here, and I put a lifetime of experience into each shoe.”