Tough-as-leather master shoemaker pays visit to Guthrie

Sixth-generation Hungarian shoemaker Marcell Mrsan spent a week in Oklahoma teaching students his centuries-old trade.
BY CELIA AMPEL campel@opubco.com Published: July 20, 2012
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They don't make 'em like they used to.

The leather insoles. The natural glue that lets feet breathe. To Marcell Mrsán, a sixth-generation Hungarian shoemaker, wearing a factory-made shoe would be like choosing a photocopy over a painter's masterpiece.

Mrsán, who could be the Michelangelo of cordwainers, spent the week of July 16 in Guthrie passing on his craft to four eager students at Sorrell Custom Boots.

The students came from near and far for the advanced class: a cobbler from Brooklyn, a former Olympic swimmer from Toronto, a purveyor of Victorian clothing from Hitchcock.

The fourth student didn't have to travel at all. At 15, she's spent almost three years learning the trade from her mother, Lisa Sorrell, who owns the shop.

Sorrell, an internationally known craftswoman herself, met Mrsán in Sweden after a shoemaking competition in Germany. She said he's known for his beautiful, simple leather handiwork sold under the brand name Koronya.

“He makes a perfect shoe,” she said.

After Mrsán moved to the United States in September to teach courses at the Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design, Sorrell jumped at the chance to bring him to her studio.

One foot in the past

Footwear is no small matter for anyone, Mrsán said. If shoes don't fit or give proper support, they can damage your knees and back as well as your feet. He said it's worth spending a little bit more for high-quality materials and craftsmanship.

Mrsán is a rarity in this nation of buyers of mass-produced shoes: He is literally a master of leather shoemaking. Like his forebears, he passed an intense master exam in Hungary.

He had to bring one handmade shoe with him and create its mate from scratch in eight hours, which is no easy feat, he said. A passing score was 95 percent or above. Anything lower, and he would have failed.

Mrsán said he was the only person in his class to pass the exam, which certified him as a master and a teacher.

Now his courses in Savannah fill up a year ahead of time, Mrsán said. He also teaches summer classes in New York City, and his YouTube channel of shoemaking tutorials has 1.7 million views.

Nowadays, he only has time to sell a few pairs of shoes each year.