Nancy DuBois has been creating buttons for more than 25 years and has more than 3500 collectible buttons out in the button world, almost all of them most of them numbered and catalogued. Her materials and techniques include leather, wood, vegetable ivory, bone, paper mâché, shell, Lucite, glass, and techniques such as sculpting and carving, watch crystal button construction, scrimshaw, cameo carving, reverse carving and flame working.
“I like the challenge of doing something odd or different or pretty or unusual– it’s the joy of actually making things,” says Nancy. Though she rarely makes multiples, she accepted the commission to design and craft 30 NJSBS Diamond Anniversary buttons to be delivered on May 7, 2016.
The base is a size medium Pinna Nobilis shell with an inserted metal shank. The main design of a goldfinch sitting on a red oak branch with leaves and acorns has been scrimshawed in 24-carat metallic gold. (Scrimshaw is the age-old art of scratching or carving line designs into the surface of natural materials, then rubbing pigment into the indentations.) The tiny violet was flameworked, done by melting colored glass in a hot flame produced by a torch and shaped it to the desired configuration. The goldfinch, branch, leaves and acorns was surface tinted with a yellow, brown and green paint then sealed for durability. A Swarovski Crystal on the front recognizes our state’s diamond anniversary. Each button back includes an engraved design number, log number, date, signature with Nancy’s seal design, and the words “New Jersey State Button Society 75 years 1941-2016.” The button is finished by a second Swarovski Crystal on the back.
When she was given some buttons from Massachusetts collector Eva Evans, Nancy started a charm string that now has close to 700 interesting specimens; her favorites are diminutives. She began making studio buttons in the late 1980s, when Eva Evans — knowing that Nancy did leather sculpting — asked if she could sculpt a tiny carved log cabin button. Nancy’s first encounter with the NJ button club was at a show in Flemington. “I was so happy to find out that our state had a club,” she remembers, “but I was nervous because I was showing up to my first meeting with a bunch of sculpted leather buttons to sell. I was soooo scared but when I got there, Gloria Chazin grabbed hold of me and introduced me to everyone and showed them my buttons! It was a great day! The next meeting, though, I paid for a table like I should.”
At present glass is Nancy’s main focus. She and her husband, Skip (also a noted paperweight artist), raise cattle and Muscovy ducks on their Salem County farm. When the Salem Community College Glass Education Center was built two miles away, Nancy joined her third child and youngest daughter, Emily, in the glass art program and earned duel degrees in glass and industrial design That Nancy now works at the Center enables her to use the techniques of glass blowing, kiln casting, fusing, slumping, cold working, flameworking, and “pate de verre.” She also has her own flame working studio that she humorously named “Coop de Verre” (because it looks like a chicken coop).
Nancy rarely has time to attend meetings, leaving it to Annie Frazier to sell her buttons. Currently she is making glass-covered dresses for the Glass Art Society convention in Corning, New York, June 9-11. Her work can be seen in Antique and Collectible Buttons Vol II, by Debra J. Wisniewski, the late Jane S. Leslie’s reference book on studio button makers, and the second edition of the Big Book of Buttons.
It’s been a busy spring, what with 14 mother cows calving and several hundred Muscovy ducks producing ducklings for the Asian restaurant market. “We let the hens sit all around the farm,” says Nancy. “Then we have to catch the baby ducks to put them under heat lamps to grow into adult ducks. Then they go to pens, where they have plenty of room, fresh water, and nonstop feed.”
Not surprisingly, birds are among her favorite subjects, along with fables (the more unusual, the better) and Kate Greenaway designs. The most unusual of her “one only” designs was a carved bungee jumper that could spring up and down. Always on the go — that’s Nancy Dubois.
This article by Barbara Figge Fox, telling about the 75th anniversary button for the New Jersey State Button Society, was published in the Bulletin for Spring 2016.