Button Keepers Share an Appreciation for a Fascinating Hobby
Writer / Amy Lant-Wenger
Sometimes even the smallest of treasures can capture a wealth of stories. Mysteries in miniature, some might say – reflections of long-ago trends, interests and styles, all of which can be viewed as a work of artistry that can be held in the palm of one’s hand.
These are among the captivating and compelling reasons why button collecting has developed into a following, and the approaching weeks are particularly exciting for regional button enthusiasts. From March 9 through 11, the local Nappanee club known as the Button Keepers will attend an event at the Essenhaus Inn & Conference Center in Middlebury, sponsored by the Indiana State Button Society. This annual showcase gives guests throughout Indiana and Michigan an opportunity to meet with others who share this unique hobby.
Whether patrons are searching for additional trinkets of finery to add to their own collections, or simply want to chat with friends present and new, there will be much to browse and bargain over. There will also be nearly two dozen competition awards, opportunities for incorporating crafting and display ideas, along with a number of educational programs designed to inspire and intrigue. There is even a fantastical, storied backdrop for this conference, “Down the Rabbit Hole With Buttons,” which speaks to an “Alice in Wonderland” theme of adventure and curiosity.
The Nappanee organization is the lone club representing greater northern Indiana, and was created in 2018 by longtime collector Dianne Chmidling. She has been involved with the Indiana State Button Society for more than 25 years, and is exceptionally well-versed on the appeal and allure of clothing buttons, and the intricate craftsmanship that goes into each diminutive design.
Chmidling and her like-minded colleagues believe that folks are drawn to button collecting for a myriad of reasons. Perhaps it’s the element of history woven into a piece. It could also involve an appreciation for the creations themselves. Above all else, there is a movement to return to a more primitive time and to appreciate simpler pleasures.
“This is one of the great benefits for everyone, of any age, to have some type of hobby, something that inspires some type of fascination for us, inviting us to be a lifetime learner and share all the fun with others,” Chmidling says. “Although most of the button-world members are older, we have a junior division for kids, and many children grow up in the button world and then become leaders and mentor others as they grow into adults, at the same time that they complete other goals in their lives. This is one way to invite children to put down their electronic devices and develop normal life patterns of reading, researching, and presenting information in ways that bring them a type of self-confidence, which develops their self-esteem and leadership skills.”
Chmidling remembers her own astonishment upon discovering the world of button collecting when she was introduced to the club circuit nearly 30 years ago. “Although I have had a special love for buttons since I was a child, I found out that there were actually button clubs in 1995 when I went to an antique show in Lawrence, Kansas, near where we lived at the time,” she says. “I was immediately hooked and a new chapter of my life began.”
That is the spirit that drives the enthusiasm of the Button Keepers. Sometimes they delve into discussions about button origins or the materials from which they’re made. The members travel occasionally, becoming acquainted with others who share that sense of delight. “We don’t just collect,” Chmidling says. “We research, study, write, and give educational programs on art, history, culture, fashion, etcetera, at our clubs and on Zoom, which include national and international participants. The last time I met someone who had never heard about our hobby, and I shared many aspects of what we do, he said, ‘I feel like I just started reading a good book and I can’t stop listening!’”
Chmidling herself has compiled a resume of presentations inspired by social causes and reflections of various eras, such as “The Abolition of Slavery Through the Art & History of Buttons,” and a presentation of the lifestyles of the Roaring Twenties. As she discovered more recently, there is always something new to pursue. Last year she went on a discovery mission to learn more about something known as a veil button, contacting scholars from museums around the world before learning that such buttons were likely adornments from apparel of the mid to late 19th century.
The club meets on the third Wednesday of every month at 10 a.m. at the Nappanee Chamber of Commerce, at 302 West Market Street, just west of downtown Nappanee.
The Indiana State Button Show and Competition will be held at the Essenhaus, located at 240 U.S. Highway 20 in Middlebury. The convention will be held on March 9 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., March 10 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and March 11 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is open to everyone, with tickets priced at $5 per person. Children 17 and under will be admitted free. For more details, call Chmidling at 574-349-3561 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.