All Buttoned Up: Helene Plank

Register here for Helene Plank’s presentation on Monday, May 10 at 2 p.m.

Free Artist Talk & Button Art Workshop

Monday, May 10, 2021 at 2:00 pm 

Join local artist Helene Plank as she discusses her button mosaics composed of hand-sewn discarded buttons and beads on raw canvas. “I combine a variety of shapes, sizes and textures to achieve a specific mood or feeling. My mosaics are influenced by artist Georges Seurat and his technique of optical blending. The highlights and shadows are formed by using various tones and hues so that the viewer’s eyes can blend them visually. One of my signature techniques includes sewing iridescent buttons to specific areas of my artwork, in contrast with the flat finish of the other buttons and beads. The combination of these two finishes adds an extra touch to my button mosaics.” Learn how to make your own button artwork and how the art form can be easily adapted to current pandemic conditions using materials at home. All registrants will receive an electronic packet of handouts in advance of the workshop.

Helene Plank earned her Associates Degree in Visual Arts from Mercer County Community College, and attained her Bachelors Degree in Advertising Design from The College of New Jersey (formerly Trenton State College). Throughout her career, Plank has produced and exhibited her artwork at The College of New Jersey, the Lawrence Branch of the Mercer County Library, Mercer County Community College, West Windsor Arts Council, Capital Health at the Hopewell Campus, Lawrence Art & Frame Gallery, New Hope Arts Center, Artists of Yardley and the New Jersey Button Society, to name a few. Her artwork is a part of the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission permanent art collection, as well as in private art collections. Her most recent recognition for her use of recycled materials is acceptance into the West Windsor Arts Council’s 2020 juried show, “Doom and Bloom.”  Helene’s mixed media mosaics clearly demonstrate a concern for the environment by elevating common, discarded materials to a high art form.


Questions from Helene P.

#1 — Would this be considered a carved ocean oyster smoky gray

?#2 — This looks like shell which is set in a brass setting, but I don’t know the proper terminology for it.

#3 — I can’t identify which shell, but it’s laying on top of another, different material (maybe bone?). Again, I don’t know what the classification is for this combination

.#4 — I think this is another carved ocean oyster smoky gray, but it’s a shank button. Is there a carving classification for geometric design

?#5 — This looks like yet another ocean oyster smoky gray, but with a pink shank

.#6 — This one is very small, but has a lot of different features. It’s got concentric circles, with what looks like an etched border, and within that border is shell that has mirror-like metal pieces set into it. Again, I don’t know the correct terms for this#7 –This button has parallel carving on an iridescent shell and has 4 holes. Is there anything unusual to comment about this on

e?#8 — This shank button is very iridescent. I think it’s called rainbow iridescent, and it’s got a deep, metal shank. It’s also carved. It’s pretty, but is it worth using for a competition?

#9 and #10 — Both look like the same type — geometrically-carved ocean oyster smoky gray. Is there anything outstanding about either of these, and which of these 2 should be entered, if at all?

#11 — This looks like a 4-hole mother-of-pearl that’s been carved. The back looks more like mother of pearl than the front. Am I wrong on all of this

#12 — This also looks like mother of pearl, but the carving is diamond shaped. Is it worth using in the competition just on looks, or is there something else about it that I’m missing? (Barbara Fox says — look at my post, the same button, but painted! I’m asking if we take THIS button and paint it ourselves, where does it belong 🙂

#13 — Another mother of pearl, but the carving is different. Is it worth using?#14 — This piece is carved, 4-hole and I think it’s carved rainbow iridescent. Is this one special enough?

#15 — This button is simple, but so beautiful — very much a rainbow iridescent brass shank button. But is it too redundant compared with the other buttons?

#16 — /this is the largest button selected. It’s got a little carving, and it looks slightly iridescent, but more of a dull finish. The interesting part is that it’s very concave/convex. Is there a special name for that type of button?


Information Please: More Shell to Classify


Here’s a novice question. Above is a shell button with a very large metal disk on the back. How does that get classified? Is it an escutcheon on the front and does the circle of the metal escutcheon count for anything?

Is is possible that the shell above meets all these classifications?

11-1 Iridescent shell.

11-4.2 Gilded applied metallic gold

11-5.4 Overlay (versus it being one piece and different colors)

11-7.2 OME metal

11-8.1 carved


pictorial: flowers

Can the shell above be

11-1 Iridescent

11-4.3 Painted (are the black circles painted)

Are the circles and the indentations carved (11-8.1 or

/this shell tray offers possibilities for analysis. How many carved specimens are there? Do any have another category

Thanks to Danielle Nicole who posted it on Button Byhtes.

The Division 1 button above is painted (11-4.3 paint/paint encrusted.) QUESTION: Can we take a Div III button, ordinary and made recently, and add our own painted design so that the button can qualify as painted? Or does that make it a studio button?

First, can you say this is a Division 1 button, i.e. made before 1919. It does not seem well made. The real question is, can you use this button to explain frames? Definition of “frame:” the body of the button forms a frame for a center of any material other than shell. So this ISN”T a frame. Is it shell mounted in metal? Where is that in the blue book? Or is it an OME as in 11-7.2 Metal assorted…including “ornate mountings, cut steel border, rim, elaborate border etc. ”


Shell Classification Quiz AND Zoom Link for 2-21 at 4

Four questions, eight buttons. Let’s do our best and hear what Annie Frazier has to say on Zoom on Sunday, February 21 at 4. Here is the Zoom link. Answers will be posted later.

  1. What classifications do these buttons share? Not share?

2. What classifications do these button share? Not share?

3. What classifications do these buttons share? (the first button has three photos)

4. What classifications do these buttons enjoy and why would you put both on the same tray?

Do you have questions of your own? Send photos. Hint: Use your cell phone far enough away to get a sharp picture, then crop it smaller.


Information Please! “Ordinary” Shell Button

How many points could you get for this shell button?

Novice and experienced button collectors – get tips on putting a competition tray together with a Zoom Q&A session with Annie Frazier on Sunday, February 21 at 4 p.m. Any questions are welcome but the featured topic will be how to label classifications for the more “ordinary” shell buttons, as above. Hint: Look at the back, maybe not so ordinary!

Back of the “plain” shell button shows its bark and whether it is iridescent or not iridenscent.

Annie will give tips on entering NJSBS’s first virtual shell competition, explained here.

Anyone who clicks through to this post may join the zoom meeting on 2-21 at 4 pm Eastern time and to join by phone use Meeting ID: 822 0686 2694 and call 1 646 558 8656.

TO SUBMIT A QUESTION send a pictures of the button, front and back, to

We will have them either posted or ready to show on the screen.

Questions – call me at 609-759-4804 or


Information Please! Watch Wheel Wisdom from Chris

Chris Parham responded to my watch wheel question: Watchwheel historical tidbit Michigan BS members were docent/curators at a small museum, which had a documented wedding dress/suit soft rust wool w/watchwheel pearls from neck to waist on bodice, & next county over another historic house museum also had a documented wedding dress/bodice with them too, so at least in this region they were possibly a “fad” or perhaps same region seamstress. 

If yours had a watchwheel under the cut steel..Even this one may be suspect, wheel thick, but is separate under the cut steel pin. So I guess that will be my inquiry. Some watchwheels are thin & precise, some less so on otherwise nice quality button…will enjoy hearing more about them. 


Information Please! Help with shell buttons:

For the Zoom Q&A on February 15 at 2 p.m. I will ask — why does this button have concnetric circles of different colors, yet it feels smooth, with everything on the same plane? It’s a thin button, but could thinner layers have been inserted? Sew through with etching, steels, and possible inlay?

For the Zoom Q&A on shell, I am asking — is this a shell button? What material surrounds the shell? Composition? Horn? So is it Composition with inlay pearl and inlay mirrors? (What are the shiny circles called, and what are they called when they are not shiny but black?

This is a ball with mirrors. Is there a better term for it? What is the ball material? Ivory? My grandmother had thse in different sizes and she died in 1953, so I know it’s before then.
The “cage like” nature of this pierced shell button fascinates me. Is there a name for it? It has a yellow metal back. Was it carved from one piece of shell with different layers?
This is an 18th century shell, pierced, with paste. But what the black that shows through? It has a metal back

The surface of this shell with little mirrors is SO bumpy with facets that it almost seeems as if the facets themselvees are what shines. The back is green.
Does the six point star count as a religious symbol or as an astronomical body? Here is another thin button that I think might have been done in layers. Or is it all one piece/
Is this sew through painted or is at transfer or decal. I think it is oyster shell. is t

Information Please? Help with shell buttons by Zoom on Sunday, February 21 at 4 pm

here is the zoom link for today, February 21 at 4 p.m.


I am dedicating February to study shell buttons – with the help of Annie Frazier’s instructional videos. (Maybe you are too?)

I am entering the nine-shell buttons – first ever virtual competition (Maybe you are too?)

 Deadline to submit photos of trays is March 1: Div 9, Class 11-7.0 Shell Assorted. 9 Buttons Any Size, try to cover as many classes as possible. List all classes that apply to each button. Label shell types if known. The purpose of this award is to see how well you understand the shell classification. Include pictorial sections and shapes.

But I have some questions (Maybe you do as well?)

Here is the zoom link for Monday, February 15 at 2 pm EST

I am taking some “shell with metals” small buttons and looking at them closely. I’ll pose these and other questions to Annie in a Zoom session. Send YOUR questions to and we can all learn together! And if you have ANSWERS send them also.

This are smalls
Annie showed this Minerva button. My question is — is the head a cameo or an escucheon painted gold?

This is shell is pierced, has metals, a star thaped metal, and has a star shape and a crescent moon shape. But is the moon an overlay or a cameo?

This sew through has a white back? but the front seems iridescent. Can it be an oyster shell?

I thought this was oyster shell, and it has shaped metals. But is the center circle an “inset” or is that part of the main shell carving?

This circle in a square (below and above) has two questions. The green back indicates it is green snail? It has gilt trim. Does the central design of steels resemble a watch wheel?

Here’s another green snail that I am trying to use as a watch wheel.


Information Please? Rooster Brand Overalls Button

This post comes from our Facebook page. NJSBS member Jade Papa worked with a collection at the University of North Carolina and asked about his button, yellow metal with a rooster and the words “I Crow Over All.” It’s on a men’s duster

First Answer: Pam Hudock VasilowIt’s a work clothes or “overalls” button. Even though it was found on a duster, it may have originally been from other work clothes. A “duster” was something worn to keep the dust off your good clothes, depending on your job. They were also very popular as extra long overcoats for people driving early automobiles. Very early autos were open air vehicles. The long duster covered up the clothing of both men and women, keeping their regular clothing clean. Such an outfit was usually worn with goggles, for keeping the dust out of one’s eyes. (When you find huge celluloid buttons, they are often from stylish overcoats worn while traveling in those early autos.) This button, however, is definitely from work clothes.

Chris Parham“I crow for all” quote from sailor powder monkey verse.

Lou YeargainWobble shank overall button. NBS has the book for sale about these special buttons.


Vicky MayhallRobert C. Wilkins Limited of Montreal, Canada made Rooster brand. The company was established in 1890. They made all kinds of work clothing so the buttons very well could be original on that linen duster. Very nice!