From the conception of the button (c. 500 BCE) to the “golden age of buttons” in the early-mid 1800s the button can be defined as a decoration, artifact, collectible, social identifier, or a fastener. The button today is part of a specific tradition in many families, most often passed down through the women of the family as a collection of material in a box, jar, or tin—these buttons might become a source of play for children or stockpile for projects. Buttons hold an unassuming power, much like the matriarchs of a family. As buttons hold together two sides of a garment, matriarchal ties hold together a family or community.
Several women have donated their button boxes to this exhibition, the majority of which were collected in the 1930s during the great depression when little was wasted or thrown away. Nowadays, buttons are collected but rarely used for their original purpose. Nevertheless, the tradition of button collecting remains. The relationship has changed from survival to sentimentality; button boxes now hold memories. Memory of clothing worn by family members, times of sacrifice in the service, or of sewing at the kitchen table on a sunny afternoon.
During my own childhood the button box was simple, but magical
entertainment. Stringing buttons with my chubby fingers to make necklaces for my sister, I would hear stories about abstract relatives, what articles of clothing the buttons came from, and their lives. I created these works to capture the collections and their relationship to their matriarchs. Buttons have been woven together in the hanging piece reminiscent of a communal quilt. Each button collection makes up one square that was woven by myself or someone close to me. This new collection created connections between myself and matriarchs of other families and gave me access to personal histories I otherwise would not be privy to. These histories are often remembered because of a specific button, making the button box an important part of memory keeping.
The portraits on the wall are of matriarchs past and present, some I have met in person and some only through the stories told when a button from their house dress is found in the button box. Just as buttons build up a narrative of the button box owner each woman had a hand in building up my family, community, and me. This buildup of material and memory brings me to my own matriarchy, illustrated in the large-scale portrait. This homage depicts a likeness of my Meme, but because of the strong genes in my family all of us ladies look similar. This portrait is representative of my matriarchs of the past, present and future and their contribution to the button box.