One of the wonderful things about going on holiday is exploring. As adults we give the impression of being travellers with a quest for knowledge of the world we live in. Really, secretly, I think we are sometimes just letting our inner child come out to play. So in Italy recently, after strolling through Santarcangelo di Romagna listening to our guide extol historical information that was very interesting and added to my overall collective historical perspective we came to the button museum or rather The Museo Del Bottone. I caught my breath. Rows and rows of buttons, all beautifully displayed. With information, in patterns, with history. In colour, in sequence, in base material . I have shell buttons but I have never thought how they were made. I now know and how lovely the shells look even when they have given up part of their surface. I would love to own one for my own concholgical collection.
Here was a man with a passion, I can't speak Italian, he couldn't speak English but we could communicate and he graciously signed his book for me. Giorgio Gallavotti. With a twinkle in his eye he flourished a signature and no translation was required. I have an Italian text but a photographic visual image that does not need translation, just adulation and imitation. Now that I am home, I have found the website and blog and with the fantastic google translate I can learn a little more each time I fancy playing with buttons. For me this is a visual history lesson which suits my learning style and photographic memory of association. It is a social history, a political history, a manufacturing history with tangents into source material, fashion, function, craftsmanship . There are buttons there with connections to Coco Chanel, Pablo Picasso, Marie Antoinette. Many of the buttons in the collection are just as attractive as a beautiful piece of jewellery and in some instances may be worth as much. Some buttons are such statement pieces the wearer does not need any other adornment.
Suddenly, I was back in my childhood with a large wooden box playing with buttons. Sorting into colours and shapes, forming lines and patterns. Playing for hours at a large kitchen table,whilst adults talked around me. You learn a lot this way. It is the quiet ones you have to watch out for. The ones who appear to be in their own world are sometimes just absorbing details by osmosis and later they will create another version of that careless chatter.
This fascination with buttons has continued . I have my own button collection. Stored in Bon Mamam jam jars and other receptacles. Buttons sorted into colour. Stacked in columns forming rainbows. Buttons kept for their beauty, for memories. A duffel coat from student days, a baby cardigan, my mother's jacket, a spare button from an evening gown, from the sleeve of a wedding dress where I had hand sewn every pearl on every flower for a dear friend. The pearl button and friend remain part of my life, the marriage didn't. Clothes may be long discarded but the buttons remain as too good to just be thrown away. Repairs now an almost redundant occupation in modern times these buttons lie as a testament to past ownership. So here they sit these objects of beauty. Sometimes I use them to make photo frames or hanging hearts or necklaces. Sometimes they are used to make writing prompts along with other artifacts. Sometimes I just play.
It is a small museum, for buttons are small things. The light may not be perfect. But as we all know, it is the small things, the tiny details, the suggestion of a smile, the whiff of a scent, the cry in the night, the shadow in the corner of an eye, that form the bigger picture.