Spotlight: Melinda Hutton, Recycled Jewelry Artist
Loving the improvisation of finding ways to make disparate elements work together to become a cohesive whole, Melinda Hutton has found her happy place with Closures-Remnants. She combines old buttons with each other or with other ephemera to create one-of-a-kind jewelry.
Tell us a bit about you and what you do.
I am 60 years young and have been making jewelry for the past 26 years. I grew up in a small town, Ellsworth, KS. Graduated from Emporia State University in 1982. I have lived in Wichita, KS., Kansas City, Salina, KS., Fort Worth, TX. And now I live in North Newton, KS. I have been married for 35 years to my husband Tracy. I have a crazy artistic, 30 year old hairdresser son, Matt, and a super sweet hard working heart of gold 27 year old son, Ryan, who is disabled. He is deaf in one ear and has a moderate hearing loss in the other, and Asperger’s due to an unfortunate bout with Meningitis at 11 months. I also am an English Bulldog momma and my current buddy is 1.5 years old and his name is Otis. He goes to the studio with me!
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Out of college I was a manager/assistant buyer at Macy’s for several years. Then I sold yellow page advertising (remember Yellow Pages!) and eventually managed a team of 30 reps covering 3 states. I was successful at this; however, when my oldest son was about a year old, I decided I wasn’t being the executive I wanted to be, and wasn’t being the mom I wanted to be. So decided to quit and be a stay at home mom. Bless my husband’s heart, he was a bit freaked out but stepped up and supported my decision.
Being a full time mom is the hardest job I have ever had, but I still needed to create. I discovered buttons through my love of vintage quilts. (Ironically, I don’t sew a stitch, but just loved the visual and tactile medium). I started to become fascinated with old buttons that seemed to be everywhere old quilts were. I started gathering and collecting them, and when the boys went to bed I would sort and study them. When I lived in Texas I had seen button jewelry; I bought a piece and loved it. When I moved back to Kansas button jewelry wasn’t anywhere. So….
Why jewelry? Why repurposed materials? How did you get started?
I started experimenting with making jewelry out of these beautiful treasures. I made items for myself, family and friends…(that was when I was young and didn’t need as much sleep 😉). Strangers would comment on my pieces, so after awhile I decided to sign up for an Arts and Crafts show in the Kansas City Area. My jewelry was a success, and that encouraged me to continue.
As the years progressed, I would make jewelry at night…then when the boys were at school…and once they were more independent I started exhibiting in more area shows and gradually increased my time at my business.
What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
I always had a “flair for art” as one of my elementary teachers wrote once. But I didn’t think I was an artist because I didn’t have the natural ability to draw a cow or some such thing. At the time, I thought an artist was a painter. I repurposed items all the time when I was young. I took an old discarded bike basket and reversed my bed, hung it on the back of the headboard for books and piled pillows against the wall so I had a daybed. As long as I can remember I always saw something else in an object, whether that was a use, or maybe just a face in a leaf.
I had a wonderful Grandma Ruby. She always had on a beautiful, fabulous large colored brooch and matching earrings. My mother also had lots of pretty jewelry; however, she only put it on for special occasions. As styles changed and mom no longer wore her 50’s jewels, I would take them and convert them to wear for myself. We all know how uncomfortable those clip on earrings are!
I would wire them, or grind off the back and glue on a piece so I could add an ear wire. I would take the necklaces and extend them to fit a “normal” neck…and so on. Finally, one day I had a “duh” moment. “If I like wearing this old jewelry in a new way, maybe my customers will too!” And that is how Remnants was born. I have taken silversmithing classes and other various jewelry classes. What I have found is I use so many self taught techniques due to my raw materials and necessity. I often don’t know the metal content in what I am using. Assemblage art jewelry is really my jam. Figuring out how to use items in a new way is like a puzzle.
How do you organize your materials in your studio? If you decide you “want to use that blue Czech glass button I picked up in 2008”, how do you go about putting your hands on it?
When I first started making jewelry I had every type of container known to man with my raw materials in them. As most creative ventures go, I had my collection everywhere. In 2006 I had an opportunity to purchase my dream studio. I decided to jump in with both feet and go for it. The space is amazing. I am very organized. I have printers drawers, dental cabinets, button cabinets of the 60’s dime store era, library file drawers, spool cabinets and even an antique seed cabinet. Type of closure determines the category – buttons or cufflinks, (things that close something), and Remnants….everything else.
Buttons I sort by age, then material, then size. Remnants I sort by type, material and color.
I sort all my jewelry findings by type and material.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
When I am designing I make a mess, but I always know where to find what I need. When it gets messy to the point I waste time looking for something, I clean up and start the process all over again. A lot of my process is about choices, so I get in the zone, and think, “oh, that would be cool” and grab some pieces. Then again, then again. Kind of like a pool ball hitting all the walls. That is how the mess starts.
Once I make my decision, I SHOULD go put the unused items away, but that’s just not me. I don’t want to take an extra minute to do “tasks” when inspiration strikes. I have listened to music before, during my design process, but more often than not, I work in silence. So I guess the inside of my crazy brain is more interesting than the music!
Without revealing trade secrets, how do you source your materials?
Early in my career, my husband and I loved antiquing and that is how I started to acquire my buttons. The down side: out of every jar of buttons, I deemed only a few worthy of jewelry. I discovered the National Button Society. It was through that organization I learned the history of the buttons. Many of the members do not think a button should be altered for any reason, so it was a chilly reception that greeted me. I respect the button as a collectible and have become knowledgeable enough to preserve the shanks on the more collectible ones. I have introduced hundreds of lay people to the organization that would not have ever known about it, so I feel like a positive member.
Over the years, the more knowledgeable collectors have become friendly because they realize the buttons I use aren’t the ones they are interested in. The button dealers love me because I buy a volume of buttons no one else wants. I belong to our State chapter and am in an informal group of less intense button lovers. We call ourselves the Button Babes and are spread out regionally. We try to meet once a year and keep in touch through emails.
My Remnants raw materials come from everywhere. Antique shops, flea markets….any wide place in the road! The treasure hunt is fun, but if you are OUT seeking and not IN making, then you are a hoarder. So as fun as the search is, I leave it to those who deal in these items. They bring me items they think are weird because they know I will like it! I am often heard saying “If it holds still long enough I’ll make a piece of jewelry out of it”!
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
I believe anyone can learn anything, but the thing in my brain is not teachable. I feel you either have it or don’t. Everyone has talents, they are just different. I admire people that can throw stuff together for a meal. I look in the kitchen and all I see are ingredients! So everyone has their own talent. I just see things in a different light. I will look at one of my millions of items and it will launch me off and let me repurpose it. Earrings are SO boring to make, but are my bread and butter so I have to make sure I make those – so I can do the stuff I really love to create.
I have a decent head for business but absolutely SUCK on the computer. I have finally hired someone to help me develop my online business. (Better late then never). I am getting too old to lug tents, and weights, and my booth props and my jewelry and set up in 90 degree heat, sit for 3 long days and then load it all up. Plus the 5 days I am away from home are hours I could be designing. I will continue to do the occasional show when and if they ever start up again. I love the direct interaction with my customers!
In the future I want to make enough money where I can hire someone to do all my boring tasks and I can just sit in my studio and create! A girl can dream 😊!
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
EVERYONE is making recycled jewelry now. I was “green” before it was cool to be “green”. I have had so many customers say to me, “I’ve seen other jewelry but none of it is ‘Closures'”.
Without being conceited, I am glad they feel that way. I take a TON of extra time to make sure every piece is balanced, clean, no glue residue, etc. The quality of product I offer for the price is second to none. I am not as profitable by spending this extra time, and have been called “ridiculous” by my younger sister – “no one would notice that but you!” BUT, I just can’t put out a product I can’t be proud of. I also think I have my own special spin on my art….as every artist should!
Interview with Melinda Hutton posted August 2020
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