Rare buttons reborn in unique bracelets
Buttons make beautiful bracelets
FEW COLLECTORS can explain their obsessions. They collect just to collect, which tends to drive the noncollectors around them cuckoo. Collecting can cost a lot of money without being particularly constructive, from an outsider's point of view.
Well, it's taken about 40 years, but Marcia Gray Keller has finally found a way to make use of the buttons she's been collecting since high school, by fashioning them into bracelets sold under the label Marcia Gray Designs.
HONOLULU GIFT FAIR
Featuring 250 vendors:
Place: Blaisdell Exhibition Hall
Time: 2 to 9 p.m. today, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday
Admission: $5; $3 active military and children
Each bracelet is a one-of-a-kind gem featuring a mix of vintage and antique buttons, 50 to 150 years old, made from materials such as pearls, celluloid, Bakelite, glass and metal, many rarely seen today.
She will show her wares at the Honolulu Gift Fair today through Saturday at the Blaisdell Exhibition Hall.
"I always liked antiques," she said. "If it was old it was a big draw for me."
That's not to say her pack-rat tendencies were confined to the old.
"When my family moved here, we were limited as to what we could bring. I had a huge collection of comic books. My brother did as well, but we had to leave those behind." (For those old enough to remember, Keller's mother, Maxine Gray Ford, was Lawrence Welk's first female singer, TV's "Champagne Lady.")
The experience of moving fueled Keller's desire to collect something more portable, and while attending Kailua High School, she started collecting buttons.
"It was just a little bit here and there while I was sewing," she said. "Whenever I saw an antique one I'd start to wonder where it had been and who wore it. It could have been a king or queen. They have a little spirit to them."
Noting that some of her buttons date to the Civil War, she said, "It's fascinating that such a tiny item can have such a long history."
Picking the most unusual ones, she only later discovered the stories behind them, as with the black mourning buttons that came out of Victorian England. After the death of her beloved husband King Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria commanded her subjects to don mourning attire, which included black buttons fashioned from matte materials, black glass and jet.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Marcia Gray Keller models bracelets she made from vintage buttons she collected over the years.
Victoria mourned for 40 years and the buttons "got more intricate as time went on," said Keller, whose favorite bracelet is studded with tiny mourning buttons.
Each of her bracelets, priced from $300 to $1,500, has been named to reflect global inspirations. Earthen-red celluloid buttons are grouped in "Brandywine River," while similar buttons in green are dubbed "Spanish Moss." There is also "Barcelona Romance" and with a nod to Tiffany's, "Breakfast at Hale Koa."
It's only within the past few years that Keller actually found time to research exactly what she had. She discovered that the first buttons are believed to have originated around the Indus Valley around 2,000 B.C.
The first manufactured buttons in the United States were made by Samuel Williston in Easthampton, Mass., 150 years ago. Other factories followed in Waterbury, Conn., Philadelphia and New York.
Making them was tedious and expensive as buttons were made from a solid piece of metal upon which an engraver carved designs. To reduce cost, animal bones and hoofs were introduced. Williston eventually made buttons for half the world. Today, China makes most of the buttons, which Keller learned after asking a friend in Yugoslavia to send her buttons.
"You would think that all across the world they would have some different ones, but they were all basic, generic buttons you would see anywhere." Keller still continues to search for buttons, though they're among the hardest objects to find.
"They could be anywhere. Hidden in a tin can. You can go through two pounds of buttons and only find two worth keeping."
Marcia Gray Designs can be found online at www.ahawaii.com/marcia. She will be at Booth 110 during the Honolulu Gift Fair.