Meet Helene Plank, Member of the New Jersey State Button Society and Button-Bead Mosaic Artist

How long have you collected buttons? I have collected buttons for over 40 years. As a very young child, I played with an utilitarian collection my mother had. My mom was amazed that I put all of the buttons back neatly in the tin when I was finished playing.

What was your most exciting button find? My most exciting button find was when I was asked if I’d like a donation of buttons from a fellow member of the New Jersey State Button Society. I was overjoyed to receive a laundry basket full of buttons and other notions and it took me weeks to go through, and incorporate all the items into my inventory.

What’s your most favorite buttons to collect? My favorite buttons to collect are glass, shell and realistics.

What do you do with the buttons you collect? For the last 9 years, I have been creating button-and-bead mosaics, which are hand-sewn onto canvas, to create florals or portraits. On the average, I usually sew around 1,700 buttons, and the canvas usually takes about a month. The most involved mosaic I did took me 6 months and many hours to complete. It was a complicated piece called “Spectral Chamber.” I still have not gathered the courage to count all of the buttons and beads!

If you were to hit the button jackpot, what would that look like? I’d buy a wall unit made exclusively for my buttons to organize them even more than they are currently being organized.

To see some of Helene’s mosaic bead and button work, visit her Facebook page “All Buttoned Up by Helene Plank.” Here, you can read posts showing the process she has used on several of her mosaics plus some notes of interest including art shows and awards she has received. And don’t forget to like her page!

Spectral Chamber by Helene Plank

 

By Pat Silvernail, Elmira Button Club

“Some thrillers are so far-fetched that they lose all semblance of reality. This is a true-to-life mystery; not too fantastic to be plausible but tremendously exciting throughout. It combines lively action with likable characters, realistic atmosphere–and a surprising ending.” This is the description taken from the book jacket and the book does indeed have a surprise ending!

Also from the book jacket – Dorothy Foster Brown was born in 1901 and lived in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her interests were wide and varied. As an artist (she graduated from the School of the Worcester Art Museum), she exhibited paintings in various cities. Her poetry appeared in the better magazines and on greeting cards of her own design. Her interest in stamp and button collecting led to her becoming a regular contributor to the magazine, HOBBIES. GRIMM DEATH, which reflects a deep attachment to the rural New England way of life, was the first of what was confidently expected to be a succession of first-rate mystery stories. ( This was her only mystery novel).

Before “The Big Book of Buttons” was first published in 1981, there was “Button Parade” published in 1942 and revised in 1968. The Lightner Publishing Company of Chicago, publisher of the famous HOBBIES magazine, issued the first edition of this book written and illustrated by Miss Brown. Mr. Lightner had many hobbies and went on to establish the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine, Florida which does indeed have a button collection in its many exhibits. Miss Brown did not write a technical book devoted to button composition and manufacturing. Rather, she looked at buttons from the human side because they are beautiful, interesting or amusing or from the standpoint of Art, Beauty and Human Interest. The author had a true collectors love for craftsmanship and detail as represented in the some 2,000 buttons shown–each painstakingly drawn by Miss Brown.

Dorothy Foster Brown became a button enthusiast in 1933 when pioneer collectors in New Hampshire introduced her parents to the hobby. Her mother was a teacher and her father an artist and designer. She started contributing button articles and drawings to HOBBIES in 1938. At the time, it was the world’s most famous publication devoted to Antiques. Miss Brown also devoted much of her time to history, liked mystery novels and Dickens and was an avid baseball fan. “I enjoy buttons” she wrote, “and I also enjoy the good friends and interesting acquaintances I have made through the hobby. But I endeavor to keep a sense of proportion: I refuse to become too serious about buttons, or to let them become too important in my scheme of things. After all, there are so many interesting things in the world!”

Miss Brown’s South High Yearbook photo includes the quote “Better to wear out than to rust out”. She was always on the honor roll and it was said she could out-talk every pupil and nearly every teacher on the subject of “War”. She spent most of her time in the art room where her fame was firmly established. In 1952, she sent a letter to a Mrs. Gibson in Worcester and enclosed four buttons she had painted– two of them were Jenny Lind, one was a snowman and one had a helmeted woman and said “Rule Britannia”. She said they were individualized and she never knew how they would come out.

Her death date is listed as “Unknown”. She is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Leominster, Massachusetts. A lovely monument has her parents’ names and dates but her name has only 1901–. One of the auction houses selling her artwork said she was 119. Her paintings are lovely, very much in the Art Deco style.

 


Images found at the findagrave.com website.

Famous Rochesterian Was A Member of the Rochester Button Society

By Linda Hickey, Rochester Button Society

Did you know that Margaret Woodbury Strong was a member of the Rochester (NY) Button Society?

Margaret Woodbury Strong, the only child of the wealthy, philanthropic Woodbury family joined the RBS in 1958 and was a member until her death in 1969. Margaret, whose only child passed away as a young adult had established a private museum to house her many extensive collections and she endowed the museum (now known as the Strong Museum) with her large fortune.

Born in 1897, Margaret started her collecting with a silver spoon that was a baptism gift. Her father collected stamps and coins and documented his life, extensive travels and times with many scrapbooks. Her mother collected 19th century Japanese objects d’art and her aunt collected bookplates. By age 11 Margaret had spent 6 month traveling in Japan, had also done an extensive European tour and spent another 6 months on a tour of Hawaii, Shanghai, Ceylon, Egypt and the French Riviera. Along the way she used her spending money to purchase small souvenir items. She preferred small items because she could get more items for her money and they took up less space in her suitcases than larger items. This interest in miniature and small items continued throughout the remainder of her life.

In 1920, at the age of 23, she married 45-year-old Homer Strong who happened to collect stamps and Sandwich glass. Her well-to-do parents gifted him with a significant amount of money upon the marriage so that it wouldn’t be said that they had to live off her money. In 1937 they purchased the 51 acre Tuckaway Farm and its 20,000 sq ft Italianate stucco mansion on Allen’s Creek Rd adjacent to Oak Hills Country Club. Since Margaret was an avid golfer who had won many national tournaments living close to a country club was important. The large secluded house had 30 rooms, 15 bedrooms, an indoor pool and an elevator. Though Margaret always collected items, it wasn’t until after the deaths of her daughter (at age 24) and of Homer in 1958 that Margaret truly devoted her life to her collections and her private “Museum of Fascination.” It has been said that she had the three qualities of a world class collector; 1) passion, 2) money, and 3) a place to store the collections.

Margaret was known for several quirks such as never wearing a girdle but always wearing a hat and only paying bills on January 1 each year. She wanted to earn as much interest money as possible each year and refused to deal with any shop owner or business that wouldn’t let her pay just once a year. One of the oddest set of items in her collections was the 50 bath tubs she purchased from an old hotel in Maine. She had the gardener line the tubs up along the driveway to her Maine summer home and used them as flower planters. She also got various artists to decorate the outside of the tubs so each one was unique.

At the time of her death her estate listed the following significant collections:

  • 400 Japanese writing sets, medieval canes and sword guards
  • 86,000 bookplates
  • 27,000 dolls
  • 600 doll houses
  • 10,000 rare books
  • 20,000 library books
  • 12,000 prints, photos and etchings
  • 1000 paintings

Since her interests were mainly in miniatures or small scale, highly decorative mass-produced Victorian and Edwardian items it makes sense that she was interested in buttons. Unfortunately for the button collecting world, Strong Museum decided that buttons were not where they wanted to put the museum’s focus so the majority of Margaret’s button collection was sold at auction.

On June 8, 1968 Margaret hosted the Rochester, Buffalo and Genesee Buttons Clubs at her home for a gala lunch (catered by Oak Hills) and tour of her museum to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Rochester Button Society. Sadly Margaret passed away just over a year later on July 16, 1969.

Below is a card of some Margaret Woodbury Strong’s Buttons that are part of Norma Brown’s collection today.  Thanks Norma for sharing!

Information gathered from Strong Museum website, Crooked Lake Review website by local historian Donovan A. Shilling and RBS historical files.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book By Elinor Graham, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1946.

Reviewed by June Kosier, June 2020 

I recently found this book in a box of books under my bed while cleaning during the quarantine. I don’t remember buying it but it contained a button dealer’s card. I called him up and he told me he had his store in the 1990’s. The price was $5. The same book is selling on Amazon now for $14. (I wouldn’t pay that much for it.)

Elinor Graham was an actress and teacher before she moved to Maine after getting married. Her maiden name was Elinor Mish and she lived in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Before she became a button collector, Elinor was a gardener. One day she finds a button from the Revolutionary War in the dirt. She is next given some buttons from a charm string and thus gets hooked on button collecting. She often visits neighbors and lets them know she is looking for buttons. She never seems to pay more than $10 for a button, but acquires many of her buttons through trades or as out-right gifts.

I have an interest in George Washington Inaugural buttons. One day Elinor is given a second inaugural button. She had previously been offered one for ten dollars and did not buy it. It was a flat copper button with “G. W.” at the center and “Long Live the President” in block letters at the top in a semicircle. Today, the button is worth between $5000 and $6000. This is why I do not have any of those buttons.

I found the book to be rather folksy. What is interesting is how button collecting was accomplished before the days of eBay. I also did not learn anything useful about buttons or button collecting. In the end, Mrs. Graham gives up button collecting and that is how the book ends.

 
by June Kosier

I am Gretel of the button world. Let me explain.

A few years ago, I was to drive my car in the Troy, NY Flag Day parade for the Van Rensselaer Chapter of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). My car was new and blue. We decorated it with red, white and blue patriotic decorations including Uncle Sam images and especially flags. Troy, NY is the official home of Uncle Sam.

I had the brilliant idea (much to my husband’s dismay) to decorate my license plate holder frames with red, white and blue buttons. I included Uncle Sam, flag and DAR letter buttons. They looked great.

After that, I decorated the frames with flower buttons for the summer. (My husband just loved switching the holders for me each time.) It never occurred to me to make Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas or even winter license plate frames. I guess I better get busy and make Easter ones now.

The flower holders are still on the car with what buttons haven’t fallen off. My driveway is full of flower buttons which I intend to pick up and re glue on my current frames once the weather cooperates.

When I describe my car to someone who I am meeting, I always say “It is a blue Mazda with buttons around the license plate.” I don’t think there are many cars like this.

I recently went to the cemetery where my father is buried to change the winter flowers on his grave to spring flowers. As I opened the car door, I had to laugh. There on the ground was one of the flower buttons off my license plate frames. I was soon standing in the cemetery laughing my head off.

I have visions of roadways that I frequent with my flower buttons along the way. Since I don’t have GPS, I guess I will be able to backtrack home, if I get lost, following the buttons.

 

 

June Kosier of East Greenbush, NY shared a few examples of how buttons are playing a small part in helping in face mask comfort in a big way.

If you’ve ever worn a face mask, it doesn’t take long to realize that the elastic around the ears can pull, rub and hurt.

Enter the button!

Two face mask related button uses have been in the news lately to help in the prevention of pain and injury to one’s ears.

First, by medical personnel who found that if buttons are sewn to the sides of a headband, the elastic loops of the face mask can be pulled around the buttons on the headband, thus saving ears from pain and irritation.

Second, a method where a short strap with buttons sewn on each end are secured near the base of one’s neck. Pull the mask loops around the buttons and the pressure is off the ears. One woman from Flushing New York makes crocheted straps. The straps can also be made from any soft fabric such as a ribbon or flannel.

With the announcement on April 15th that Governor Cuomo will issue an executive order requiring all people in New York to wear masks or face coverings in public, mask comfort will matter to more people.

Check out the helpful links for making face masks, headbands and straps. I personally made a few child and adult sized face masks following Leah’s tutorial.

Cindy Clauss

 

Crocheted ear saver with buttons – video instructions.

Ribbon ear saver with buttons – very simple video instructions

This video shows how to make a headband with buttons.

Leah Day provides tutorials for a child and adult face masks with elastic or ties. I found the patterns easy to follow.