Art Deco buttons delight at the Dowse this summer

The Dowse’s flyer for All That Jazz features a selection of buttons by Henri Hamm.

Buttons seem to be something of a curatorial theme this year. Déboutonner la mode (Unbuttoning fashion), an extensive, and meticulously researched button exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, has just closed after a successful six month season. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt has just opened All That Jazz: Deco Highlights from the Ruth Meier Button Collection.

Buttons from Ruth Meier’s collection. Photo Mark Tantrum. Courtesy of the Dowse Art Museum.

Both exhibitions are the results of impassioned private collecting.  Déboutonner la mode was centred on the extensive collection of Loïc Allio, author of Boutons (Seuil, 2001).  Similarly to Allio’s,  Ruth Meier’s button collection numbers over 3000. Ruth, who is now 82, first became interested in buttons in the 1950s while working in the haberdashery department of Kirkcaldie & Stains. The interest has never waned.

In All that Jazz, Ruth presents a tight selection of buttons dating from 1900 through to the 1940s. She confesses that ‘big, ugly’ Art Deco buttons are her favourite kind. Displayed in a blackened, intimate space, the exhibition sparkles like jewel at the centre of the Dowse’s otherwise contemporary art filled spaces.

Although All that Jazz is boutique in scale some of the big names of the button world are present, including ‘parurier’ extraordinaire, Henri Hamm. While the couture buttons – made from enamel, glass, wood and clay – dazzle in their artistry, the ‘goofies’, which include everything for sausage dog shaped buttons to cigarette butts, simply delight.

Bite sized but wholly satisfying, the exhibition is well worth the trip out to the Dowse over the coming months (it’s on until the end of January 2016). You can even buy a card of buttons at Mine, the Dowse’s crafty shop, to kick-start your own collection.

For more on Ruth and her collection you can read an interview on Stuff.

All That Jazz: Deco Highlights from the Ruth Meier Button Collection, the Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt 11 July 2015 to 31 January 2016

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