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Artist Gives Life to Boot Scrapers

Life can feel somewhat diminished during these difficult times, but Belgian artist Elke Lemmens has found a way to build happy, surprising connections with past and present - in a charming, tiny way.

She's using her artistic skills and a community-building grant from the city of Antwerp to bring ordinary lives - and extraordinary stories - out into the open by giving disused boot-scrapers a second act. Lemmens is using the grant to install at least 50 miniature scenes in the old niches outside homes that families once used to clean off their shoes.

These dusty architectural remnants of an age when muddy roads and the absence of pavements made rubbing one’s footwear over metal a prerequisite for going indoors blend into cityscapes from Europe to the United States, failing to attract notice since doormats replaced them.

“So many people have so many stories behind their doors,” Lemmens said as she uses tweezers to move miniature figures into cigar boxes. “Every one of these stories fits into one of these wooden cigar cases, and then I write the names of the (property) owners in chalk on the front.”

She's putting her creations in various neighbourhoods around Antwerp. One boot-scraper conveys a message of diversity with people walking across a rainbow crosswalk, another household’s scraper compartment shows people standing on a globe. Lemmens made it for a family that enjoys traveling and has relatives around the world.

Creating in miniature is something Lemmens has done since childhood. “I always played with Lego. I would put together a bakery, but then mold the croissants and breads and cakes out of clay myself and paint them different colors,” she said. “Then I started making things out of balsa wood because it’s easy to carve. My dad is a hobby carpenter, so I guess the influence always made me feel handy.”

The boot scraper project is certain to arouse curiosity during the months ahead in Antwerp, where a partial lockdown has residents not venturing far from home and keeping their distance from others. For some, a simple evening walk can feel like an adventure.

“Soon, there will be a walking map so people can find these boot scraper scenes,” Lemmens said.



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