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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Mrsán compared his teaching experience in America to the three years of traveling his ancestors had to do, moving from town to town to shadow various shoemakers.

“This is pretty much my master journey,” he said.

One foot in the future

The Guthrie students appreciated that Mrsán made the odyssey to Oklahoma. Many of them had watched his YouTube videos, but getting face time with Mrsán was invaluable, students said.

“There's a few books here and there, but you can't learn from a book,” said Matt Huang, the Canadian swimmer.

Huang works in finance now, and last year he traveled to Budapest to take a beginning shoemaking class from Mrsán. He's been practicing his skills since then, and eventually hopes to open his own studio.

When Huang heard Mrsán would be in Guthrie last week, he “snapped up the chance,” he said. Huang said the shoemaker is a tough teacher, but that the rigor of the course benefits the students in the end.

“I'd call it an old-school, hard-line approach, which I like … I think he wants us to be better than he is, himself,” Huang said. “If that's possible.”

Paige Sorrell, 15, said Mrsán helped her refine the pattern-making skills her mother taught her.

“He's taught me how to design much nicer, sleeker shoes,” she said.

Paige said she has made 23 pairs of shoes since she started learning at age 12, selling some pairs for as much as $150.

“I'm glad because I know I'm making my mom so proud,” she said. “I want to pass it on to somebody too, whether it's my own children or an apprentice I take on.”

That's the key, Lisa Sorrell said — bringing Mrsán to Guthrie helped her hand down a centuries-old trade. The number of people in the world who can craft a product on the level of a Koronya shoe is shrinking, she said.

“If it all goes to factories and we don't pass it on, then it will all be lost,” she said.

Sorrell said the only way to keep the knowledge from disappearing is to pass it on the old-fashioned way: students patiently working alongside a master.