Faces of Red Wing | Forrest Wozniak

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Forrest_6We see them every day, but don’t take note of them. A product of 150 years of American history, hand-painted signs are a natural part of the American streetscapes. But what was once a common trade has now become a highly specialized craft competing with modern technology. We met with Forrest Wozniak – a carpenter and mason turned sign painter – to talk about his mission to preserve American craftsmanship. 

Forrest, how does a carpenter turn into a sign painter?
In my twenties, my friends and I hitchhiked through the USA on freight trains. These trips were low budget adventures. It was in Olympia, Washington that we started painting on rusty objects for fun, but it soon became obvious that we’d be able to actually make a viable living with this if we’d make it more available to the general public. Painting signs was the obvious next step. The thing is… you can’t travel the country as a carpenter the same way you can as a sign painter. You can travel with your toolbox – with your primaries, your blacks and whites, and a couple of brushes – and you could be in Idaho and still have a way to pay for gasoline and food.

So you‘re an autodidact?
I come from a generation in which vocations weren’t really taught. In those days, we had no actual knowledge and just played around with sign painting. What we did was fundamentally unsound. Things changed when I met Phil Vandervaart, an old-timer in the sign-painting industry. He was to be my oracle, the wise man in the cave, who helped channel my understanding of sign painting from a fundamental knowledge perspective. Phil himself was trained in the 60’s, when there were outlets to really learn the trade. He passed on his knowledge to me. In return, I brought a youthful spirit and drive to the table. We started working together on and off, and still do today. It’s been 14 years now.

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Rugged boots for a rugged country

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Alyssa Larson and Brody Leven traveled to Iceland to explore its vast nature and to ski down some of the most pristine mountain peaks. Following the country’s 1300 km long Ring Road for seven weeks, they took the ‘off the beaten path’ whenever they saw an opportunity. It led them to discover some of the most untouched areas of magical Iceland: isolated beaches, volcanic highlands and massive glaciers. In need of a warm, dry, and tough pair of boots, they each brought a pair of Red Wing Heritage 8146s.
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The Beauty of the Beast – The Puritan Stitch Machine

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Puritan_2Across the factory floor in Plant 2, a staccato hammering is heard before it is seen. Approaching the cacophony one finds the curved leather-clad back of an archaic contraption that looks a little bit like an armored medieval warhorse. This is the Puritan Stitch machine, so named for its original builder, Puritan Manufacturing of Boston, Massachusetts. This place of origin is proudly displayed on the only bit of adornment on the entire machine, an engraved brass plaque that also shows the date of its patent: January 31st, 1893. During normal operation, this plaque is hidden away behind the fitted leather cover that reduces the sound of the machine and protects its operator from sharp edges and moving parts.

It’s just as well that the mechanics of the Puritan Stitch machine are hidden away; the machine itself is not much to behold. Its heavy metal frame is a dull gray and its necessary lubrication leaves an oily film that collects dust. But observing it running in the hands of a skilled operator is where its beauty lies. She feeds a set of leather panels under its heavy sewing head and three massive needles fuse them together with a triple stitch. This signature triple row of stitches is what holds the front and back sections of a boot together and what makes a Red Wing boot so hard wearing and long lasting. It’s been done this way since the early 1900s with this very same machine. And until a better machine comes along, it will continue to be done this way, we think, for a long, long time. Puritan_3Puritan_1

Listen to those who work with these machines as they explain how they work, and why we keep using them in this video.

Faces of Red Wing – Chuck Ragan

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We met up with music-industry veteran Chuck Ragan during his Europe tour with his band The Camaraderie. With over twenty-five years of experience, he has done it all: from raw punk to love-tinged folk music. Nevertheless, the artist remains hungry: ‘I never want to write the same record twice. What’s the point in that?’

You say writing music is a form of therapy; to rebel, speak your mind…
I write in different forms; some of it is storytelling, some of it is about something that happened, or something I read in a book or paper. There are so many aspects of songwriting I transfer into music. Having the freedom and opportunity to write about it is the beauty of making music. Read more »

The Policeman – Style no.9197

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9197_1_smIn the 1950s policemen still walked their beats and the postman walked his mail route. They needed comfortable and sturdy footwear for the hours spent on their feet. Red Wing Shoes responded with style nos.101 and 102, better known as the Postman and the Policeman.
The Cushion Crepe sole helped to keep their feet comfortable as they patrolled their beats. The outsole had a slip resistant function, a requirement for shoes worn on duty. This year, we introduce style no. 9197, modeled after no.102. And as a proof, the registered Slip Resistant/USA label is legitimately part of the boot.

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A glimpse into the past

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We returned to our archives to find these photographs of hardworking men at the S.B. Foot Tannery. It is the main leather supplier for Red Wing Shoes and has been a proud member of our community since 1872. Taken by local Red Wing, Minn. photographer Richard Gard in the 1950s, these photos capture true dedication to the honest craft of quality leather making.

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Stepping Into History | New Boots Made With Old Machines #1

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With a satisfying clunk, ten nails are driven home deep into the heel of an Iron Ranger boot. The operator deftly slides the boot out and in a single motion, pulls the lever that draws the next ten nails down their tracks into position. He slides a new boot into the machine and with another clunk, yet another pair of Iron Rangers is brought to heel. This process will repeat itself all day long as hundreds of pairs of boots march towards completion. It is a process that has remained the same for the past eight decades and through several generations of Red Wing bootmakers. Read more »

Care instructions | Oil tanned leather

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Our very own S.B. Foot Tanning Co. is best known for oil-tanned leather, which is used to build a variety of timeless Red Wing styles. This leather is water, stain and perspiration resistant, and has a more natural look and feel because less finishing materials have been applied, allowing its natural beauty to shine through. Oil-tanned leather is exceptionally durable and has been used to build countless work boots throughout Red Wing’s 110+ year history. Learn how to care for those leathers in the video below. Or visit our shoecare instructions page here.