Art Deco Buttons to Wow at The Dowse

Author: Katrina Smit, Communication & Relationships Manager

Buttons are often overlooked on clothing—they’re workers on a garment, holding up trousers, fastening shirts and stopping the cold coming into coats—but in a new exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum, buttons are the main attraction. All That Jazz: Deco Highlights from the Ruth Meier Button Collection on show from 11 July 2015 to 23 January 2016, is a celebration of a heyday in button production, the Art Deco era.

Selected from the private collection of Lower Hutt resident Ruth Meier, each button is a tiny work of art that reflects the time in which it was made. This exhibition gives only a sample of the over 3,000 buttons in Ruth’s personal collection, accumulated through 40 years of buying and trading in the international button market.


The buttons from Ruth’s collection reflect the jutting lines and sharp shapes of Art Deco that echoed through art, fashion, design and architecture. Starting with Art Nouveau in the 1890s through to Art Deco in the 1920s to 1940s, the buttons show developing technology and fashions. As lifestyles changed so did the clothing that was worn. The invention of plastics such as bakelite and celluloid made possible lustrous new colours and extravagant shapes.

Senior Curator at The Dowse, Emma Bugden says “Ruth’s collection is overwhelming in scale and quality. We’ve chosen to showcase buttons from the Art Deco era because of the strong design quality; each button is like a tiny work of art; exquisite and truly stunning. For those with an interest in textiles and fashion, particularly visitors to the region attending WOW, this exhibition will be an opportunity to see something very special.”

Ruth Meier’s interest in buttons started when she worked at Kirkcaldie & Stains’ haberdashery department in the 1950s but it was her three decades living in Switzerland that really fired her up.

Most of the buttons were bought one at a time, painstakingly building up the collection. However she once acquired 700 kilos of buttons in a single purchase, requiring Ruth and her husband to hire a truck and drive through Switzerland in a snowstorm to retrieve hundreds of buttons stored in old tea chests.

From the very first button she purchased at an antique fair, Ruth was hooked, as she describes, “it was like a love affair and I couldn’t stop”.


All That Jazz: Deco Highlights from the Ruth Meier Button Collection
11 July 2015 ‒ 31 January 2016

Media inquiries to:
Katrina Smit
Communication and Relationships Manager
Petone Settlers Museum I The Dowse Art Museum
T 04 560 1477 I M 027 7777 127

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