The Button Jar Revolution

The Medium is the Message – Marshall McLuhan

I lived with my Great Grandmother until I was twelve. My Great Grandmother’s house had a ‘button jar’. At one time every house had a button jar. When a button fell off a shirt my Great Grandmother went to her button jar, found a suitable button and sewed it on. When that shirt got a tear, it was mended. When that shirt got too many tears, the buttons were cut off and returned to the button jar. The shirt was cut into pieces and those pieces went into the ‘rag bag’. Those rags washed widows, wiped spills and became beautiful, mishmash patchwork quilts. My Great Grandmother had never heard of the words ‘recycling’ or ‘repurposing’. There were no plastic Blue Bins; there was only a garbage can… one very small, metal garbage can … for a household of six people.

The sad dichotomy of our times is that we are a people in celebration of an age of new found environmental awareness, and yet this same era only celebrates all that is new and shiny, disposable and characterless. It looks down on anything used, worn or out of date. We are proud that we sort our garbage and use cloth grocery bags but turn up our noses at last year’s styles. Past generations who didn’t think about the environment, with only their pride of frugality, made due with far less, recycled far more and took care of the earth better than we do today.

Florence Walton Quilting

Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I truly get excited by finding new uses for old things, for buying used items instead of new, knowing how to repair, for being creative enough to make use or beauty from other peoples garbage, for outsmarting the global system of commercialization. Whether it’s for my own use or use in my art, I love the history, the quality and uniqueness of these things. I think about their past and where they will go in the future. I think about the people who have possessed them and events they have been witness to. These items salute the character of the quirks that only come with age and the scourges of time. In my assemblages, rusted parts of machines, cherished dolls, carpenters tools, jewellery and clothing from eras past are the veterans of a time that shaped the world we live in. They proudly come to my art with their own unique character scars and personal experiences, in the form of dents and cracks. They are like aging actors who have shed their utilitarian lives and bring to the viewer their valuable experience and a reality that could otherwise not be achieved with any other medium. It’s a play that is part whimsy, part Frankenstein and sometimes I feel more like the director than the creator of my own work.

My hope is that my art will help the viewer to reconnect a little with the history of the hands that have touched these humble artefacts of humankind and understand that wear doesn’t necessarily detract from something’s value, it can add to it. Maybe after seeing my art, some of the junk of yesterday will find a new use today.

We need a revolution; we need more button jars!


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2 responses

  1. Pingback: Rounding to the Nearest Ten | New Grandmas Rock!

  2. Pingback: Grandma’s Button Jar | Adventures in Travel

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