In earlier eras, buttons were a crucial ornamental element in women’s wear.
More than just mere fasteners, buttons made of a variety of materials — metals, plastic, seeds, shells, bone, leather, and fabrics — often served to accessorize and soften the more tailored looks of bygone days. They complemented the style of the clothes they adorned and added some interest.
However, along with the demise of more structured fashion and the rise of easy-to-wear comfortable styles, the button has become less conspicuous and more utilitarian, if not often non-existent. Fortunately, many of these relics of a more-attention-to-detail era survived, and one local artist has found a way to recycle them into wonderful eye-catching jewelry with historical appeal.
Leslie Myers is a part-time photographer turned jeweler who collects and transforms vintage buttons into a variety of rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and headbands. You’d almost never guess that the jewelry in her collection, BlueBoat Vintage, was assembled from buttons. She hand-selects buttons and takes these wonderful, detailed, rich, little fashion punctuation marks and gives them a second life as signature pieces.
While vintage costume jewelry can be pricey, the same aesthetics that exemplify the looks of the early 20th century through the 80s (the eras from which BlueBoat Vintage draws) can be found in the marvelous buttons that Ms. Myers selects. And the inexpensive nature of her materials allows her to sell her pieces at very affordable prices. For from $15 to $60, one can add a touch of bygone glamour to an outfit.
While the earrings tend to be subtle and dainty with delicate feminine buttons on posts and as demure drops, larger signature buttons are used to make bold rings. The necklaces feature a variety of interesting buttons that are carefully coordinated to give each piece a theme. Charm bracelets spotlight a variety of textures, styles, and materials. The time and care taken to match pieces that complement each other attests to an artist’s eye and patience and a self-confessed tendency towards perfectionism.
For some pieces, Ms. Myers adds a vintage rhinestone pin or bits from an old brooch to add a little bling. The only items that display buttons as we think of them — plastic disks with four holes — are the band bracelets and ornamental headbands that benefit from the charm of their objects being obvious and playfully utilized.
Ms. Myers fell into jewelry making almost by accident. She is a full-time mom of Lily, 4, and Tanner, 2, married to Tobias Myers, and a self-taught photographer whose creative nature tends toward experimentation. She ordered a kit to turn photos into jewelry but wasn’t satisfied with the results. She became interested in the jewelry assemblage process and started playing with different materials, including a small collection of vintage buttons that had been passed down to her from her grandmother.
“I was looking for an instant-gratification creative project. The buttons just clicked and I went with it,” Ms. Myers says.
Her early efforts attracted so much attention and praise that she was encouraged to turn her new hobby into a small enterprise. She purchased a large lot of buttons from a friend of a seamstress family and then started ordering more online. She kept the name of her photography business BlueBoat and added Vintage to it.
Ms. Myers continues to produce art cards featuring photos enhanced with an oil paint application and printed with a textured linen finish. Wednesday’s trunk show will give her an opportunity to introduce her jewelry collection and to debut a line of her cards featuring pictures of the flowers, herbs, and vegetables from State Road Restaurant’s gardens. “Nature is a huge inspiration for me, whether I’m shooting or creating jewelry,” Ms. Myers says. “I find that’s what I gear myself towards.” The cards will be on sale at the restaurant this summer.
The trunk show will also feature the work of Ms. Myers’ friend, Astrea Young, who makes one-of-a-kind collage cards and journals. Ms. Young hosted a show at her home last fall for the two artists that Ms. Myers notes was a huge success. The BlueBoat Vintage line has previously been available only through private showings and online on etsy.com, although Ms. Myers has had a few trunk shows in Canada and Philadelphia (she grew up between the two) and hopes to get her work into some local stores this summer.
Ms. Myers continues to grow and experiment with her creative endeavors. “I’m not going to limit myself,” she says. “Right now I’m having a great time with this and I’ve had a terrific response. So far this has been a really great ride.”
It’s quite obvious that she gets a lot of enjoyment from her current project, sorting her vast collection and deriving inspiration from her source material. “I really enjoy thinking about the history of the buttons. Where they’ve been and what their next life will be. It’s a story — at least for me.”
Spring Trunk Show, Wednesday, May 18, 5–8 pm, State Road Restaurant, West Tisbury. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.