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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Barbara Granger's art is on the button

by Courtney Meade '01

Barbara Granger

With the Rolling Stones blaring and a highboy full of turn-of-the-century buttons, Barbara Granger sits in her "button room" for hours, sometimes even full days, creating works of art. Granger, executive assistant to the provost for 13 years, has a unique hobby in which she uses antique buttons to fashion fine pieces of jewelry like bracelets, earrings, and brooches.

Ten years ago, while nursing an injured knee, Granger was inspired by a collection of buttons an old friend had given her. Sifting through the assortment, she found herself placing similar buttons together in intricate designs, eventually creating her first piece that she still keeps as a humble reminder of how much her artwork has matured. Years later she also has branched into other crafts, including picture frames with antique lace and mother-of-pearl buttons, and pillows using vintage laces, tapestry, and buttons.

For Granger, a long day on the job does not deter her from her artwork. Often tired from frenzied days at the provost's office, once inside her "button room" she rejuvenates, tinkering with her many different buttons to create one-of-a-kind pieces. Using antique dealers to find button collections for her--a task she believes is getting to be more difficult now that antique buttons are becoming more scarce and expensive--she has come to relish when new shipments arrive.

"My husband knows that when a box of buttons arrives from my dealer there will be no dinner that night," she said, "since the first thing I do when I get home is open the box, sit down, lay them all out, and look at them, then decide which I want to buy."

The preparation and design of a single piece of button jewelry involves more time than one might expect. Although the processes for creating pieces are somewhat different, for each she must first cut the backs off the buttons, clean them, clean the pieces that the buttons will be attached to, then mix the glue that binds the buttons. The entire process might take from one day to a few days, depending on whether she is making a pin, brooch, or bracelet.

A hobby is a hobby when you can enjoy it for many years and never once look at it as work. Granger looks forward to her two weeks of vacation in August when she takes time to make her pieces for the upcoming fall art season. She shows her pieces at five local annual art shows during the fall, including the Memorial Art Gallery's Clothesline Festival, the Mendon Country Crossroads Show and Sale, the Cobblestone Cupboard Show at Eagle Vale Golf Course, and a show at St. Patrick's Church in Victor.

Satisfaction for Granger comes in the form of "the acceptance from people. It's almost like a performer with applause--I get a high from the reactions of my customers," she said, "especially those who have no idea about buttons. They come in and I tell them histories of the buttons, and they get excited about their new pieces."

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