The Brooklin button lady sees her favorite fastenings as high art


BROOKLIN, Maine – When Lindsay Goodale was a child, she would run her hands through her grandmother’s button collection and she would bathe in amazement. In small and often unnoticed pieces of clothing is a work of art and piece of history combined into one.

“There’s something about getting bunch of buttons,” he said. “It’s like getting gold coins.”

Although Goodale, the self-proclaimed “Brooklin button lady,” can rhapsodize about all the different types of buttons, there is one type with which she is particularly attracted: mother-of-pearl.

Iridescent buttons are made from nacre, the inner layer of a mollusk shell and the material from which the pearls are made. Because of that natural beauty, they shone in Goodale’s eyes and he curated some from his personal collection of hundreds of buttons for an exhibit at the Friend Memorial Library in Brooklin.

Titled “Button, Button,” the exhibit showcases the beauty and luster of mother-of-pearl buttons and belt buckles by framing them and treating them as high art rather than things that should be. pick up while dressing.

“Forget about buttoning your overcoat. Beautiful buttons should be framed and hanging on the wall,” Goodale said Wednesday, quoting the late interior decorator Mario Buatta. “The workmanship of these little things, it’s amazing.”

Part of what appeals to Goodale is the long history of the buttons. They go back thousands of years. The earliest known button is believed to have been used more as a decoration than as a fastener in the Indus Valley about 5,000 years ago.

A set of iridescent mother-of-pearl buttons and buckles displayed in the “Button, Button” exhibit at the Friend Memorial Library in Brooklin.
Credit: Ethan Genter / BDN

Mother-of-pearl is back as well. Ancient Egyptians used mother-of-pearl at least 4,200 BC, with pieces found in pyramids and tombs of the ruling class, said Matthew Thomas, an auction house that specializes in Islamic and Indian art. , in Homes & Antiques in 2020.

Over the centuries, the mollusk shell material has been widely used for decoration and reached its height in popularity in the 19th century. The first American button factory to use clam shells opened in 1895 along the Mississippi River in Iowa, according to the Wiener Museum of Decorative Arts. Clammers would collect shells from the river and factory workers would cut buttons using circular saws. The shell button will eventually disappear in favor of increasing plastic.

Most of Goodale’s collections have unknown provinces. He bought them jarful over the years at markets and fairs. Some sports have beautifully carved patterns while others, like a set of English shirt buttons from Goodale’s grandmother’s collection, aren’t lost on a beautiful jacket today.

Ann-Margaret Thomas, director of the small library in Brooklin, said the exhibit and accompanying button factoids were a hit.

“Lindsay Goodale provided interesting information and books along with her beautiful collection of Mother-of-pearl buttons,” she said. “Patrons of all ages are enjoying the show.”

For Goodale, who has display buttons in almost every room in his home, the exhibit lets him show people what it feels like to have a deeper appreciation for fastenings.

“It’s great to be able to share with everyone,” he said. “They’re really works of art.”

“Button, Button” will be on display in the library until April.

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