A stunning exhibition of contemporary handmade buttons will go on show alongside the silk costume collection at Macclesfield’s Heritage Centre this June. Running from June 14 – August 8 the exhibition will be launched at Barnaby, the town’s summer festival of art and fun, and will showcase work by artists and makers from across the UK, and even beyond.
The Heritage Centre – one of Macclesfield Museum’s four venues in the town – features fine examples of the local Macclesfield silk button as well as a nationally important collection of silk clothing, fashion and accessories from throughout the town’s silk-making history. It is an ideal setting to complement top-notch buttons by contemporary makers. And at the nearby Silk Museum – formerly the School of Art where textile designers were trained – there will be more buttons on show in a companion display, creating a button bonanza that spans the town.
Well over 100 makers have put themselves forward for The Button Project, with more on their way. Whether in silver, gold, enamel, glass, wool or silk, these buttons will be tiny works of art, and beware! they can be highly addictive. The artists have many different approaches and techniques, and include those who are just starting out as well as the internationally renowned, plus many who create simply as a labour of love.
Among the many artists who have committed to the project is Gina Barrett, a talented maker with extensive experience of providing reconstructions of traditional costume accessories for theatre, film and museums as well as supplying today’s designers and artists with modern trimmings; Nancy Sutcliffe is a world-class glass artist who specialises in delicate figurative diamond-point engraving and has work in many collections including Broadfield House Glass Museum. She muses “It’s an opportunity to do something new, to experiment, who knows, I might not even use glass or my drill at all!”
Alexandra Abraham makes luscious paintings and jewellery using found and vintage items, often from the Thames foreshore near where she lives. For the show Alexandra has created a button that includes fragments of glass buttons made by Lionel Nichols, England’s last couture button maker (his clients included Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies). Sue Brown is recognised for her printmaking, but has recently been combining this practice with enamels. She has made a delicate moth-button that seems to flutter off the surface on which it sits – very apt considering Macclesfield’s silk-making past. Sabine Krump is a self-confessed button obsessive, who is utterly dedicated to the gloriously named ‘Austrian Twist Knob’, and she has sent one of her finest examples of the form.
Buttons have a fascinating history, it is no wonder they attract so many people. Going back a couple of thousand years at least, they have a practical use in fastening clothing, but they are much more than that, and have been used as items of jewellery, decoration, status, and even currency.
For Macclesfield, silk buttons are where it all began. This cottage-based business flourished into major industry and shaped the town into what it is today. Macclesfield Museums, which recently have been designated the official western end of the Silk Road by the United Nations World Tourist Organisation Silk Road Project, present all aspects of silk use and production. The museum curator, Annabel Wills, says “The great thing about The Button Project is the way that it brings together the historical collections with contemporary artists. The town has its beginnings in the button trade, and Macclesfield silk buttons were all handmade. Today’s makers help to keep that heritage very much alive.”
The Button Project is the first of its kind for the town. The show has been organised by Victoria Scholes, an exhibition organiser with some experience in putting together this kind of collective show, and also a well-respected glass artist in her own right. “I’ve been blown away by the response so far, and by the ingenuity and passion of the artists” says Victoria “New technologies mean that the skills of the hand are dwindling – only a handful of people know how to make a Macclesfield button today – and these makers are a real cause for celebration of what we have”.
If you’d like to submit a button, there’s still time to take part. The deadline for expressions of interest is March 4, and finished buttons can be accepted until 4 May. All details about submitting can be found at www.barnabyfestival.org.uk.
Button shown by Alexandra Abraham made from recycled materials (including fragments of glass buttons by England’s last couture button maker, Lionel Nichols) and 23 carat gold leaf.