A Farewell to Buttons

Today we are making an announcement that is equal parts joyful as it is melancholy. 

My husband Donny and I are retiring after thirty-seven years of handcrafting jewelry from vintage glass and antique buttons. We've decided to close our jewelry manufacturing business and website for good. This wasn't an easy decision, but after much heartfelt contemplation, it's the best option for our family. Our daughter Anna, who has served as our photographer and brand manager for just over a decade, agrees.

L to R: Susan and Donny at a reception for recipients of the Governor’s 1992 Business Pacesetter Award; Susan and baby Anna unpacking one of the first button collections she ever bought. 

We hope to sell our grand, historic 1905 bank building so that it remains a community hub, and to see our retail store live on as well. So many good things are happening in our lovely small town–St. Francisville often appears on lists of the 50 best small towns in America–and we are happy to have played our role through the years in this growth.

L to R: Our stately 1905 bank building as it stands today; Susan and Donny moving into the building in 1994.

Grandmother's Buttons was a long, strange, exciting, scary, hilarious, and enlightening journey. When we think about it now, it seems so odd that this thriving business was the brainchild and passion of an English major and a wildlife biologist with no business or design experience or training. 

 In retrospect, deciding to build a business in a tiny town in south Louisiana, located so far away from the world's design and manufacturing centers, seems like a folly that only young people would choose to embark on. In this pre-internet era, we had to journey to the public library to consult the print version of the Thomas Register of Manufacturers to locate the first metal casters, platers, stampers, and chain manufacturers we would need to create our jewelry. 

Susan in her element hunting for vintage glass and buttons from California to Rhode Island and the Czech Republic.

And yet, here we are, writing this letter to all of you after over three decades of challenging but nonetheless successful and rewarding work. We now look back on these early decisions with both wonder and pride.

A friend recently remarked that it wasn't the work he missed after his retirement, though he had found that engrossing. It was the people. After making this decision, I am sensing how true this will be. Last night, while contemplating the writing of this letter, I browsed through old pictures. We raised our family in this business. We also made a new family with the people who worked with us over the years.


L to R:  A GB party at Susan & Donny’s house in the late 1990s; Corda, Susan, & Melissa taking an ice cream break in Maine while button hunting; a staff picture from the early 2000s.

Sorting through decades of memories expressed in pictures brought tears and irrepressible laughter. The most entertaining was our countless button-hunting trips with our employees, who always felt like friends and family. I can't help but crack a smile thinking of all the oddball places we traveled together to sell our jewelry and search for buttons, especially in the early years.

 I found a photo of Kristy and Stacy, who worked for us for many years, face-planted on hotel beds after nine solid hours of digging through dusty boxes full of vintage beads, glass, and buttons in the New York Garment District.

L to R: Corda and Melissa being very brave in Chicago’s Willis tower; Kristy and Stacy face planted after 9 hours of digging for buttons; Anna and Kristy in our Atlanta gift market booth.

I belly laughed thinking about when Janet and I were stranded in La Guardia Airport in 2003 during a blackout. We hired a limousine with five strangers to take us to Philadelphia, where the planes were still flying. 

I'll also never forget the adventure of scavenging for hand-carved beads and buttons in the flea markets of Shanghai with Nancy. 

And then there were the shows. We've constructed countless retail and wholesale booths which, like our jewelry designs, contained an ever-evolving collection of vintage finds transformed into effective merchandising displays with a combination of imagination and resourcefulness.

In the 1990s, our booths were the brainchild of Marla's artistic genius and sewing skills. In the 2000s, we benefited from the work of young women who had cut their merchandising teeth with Anthropologie.

Marla receiving a booth design award at the Atlanta Gift Market around 1996, and Susan in the same booth. 

However, our most recent booths are my favorites, full of the creative genius that emerged from combining my scavenging prowess with my daughter Anna's artistic flair and professional photography skills and Kristy's calm ability to keep us both focused.

L to R: A Chicago gift market booth from 2011, and an Atlanta booth from 2019. 

We've set up booths at the wholesale gift and apparel markets in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and even Paris. It was in these booths, in faraway cities, that we met the owners and managers of the thousands of retail stores that were kind enough to carry our jewelry. A few dozen of these retailers became dear friends during relationships that spanned decades.

L to R: Anna designing the booth she and Susan presented at an international wholesale jewelry show in Paris in 2010.  They transported the whole display in two suitcases!

 I wish I could have traveled to all of the museums that have carried our jewelry. Now that we're retired, we might. Here is a truncated list of our favorites. Our longest-running museum account was at the Museum of North Carolina History. At various times, we have also sold our pieces at the World War II Museum in New Orleans, the San Francisco Museums of Art, the British Museum, the Palace of Versailles, the Museum of American Folk Art, the Kohler Arts Center, the Biltmore Estate, the New York Tenement Museum, the New York Historical Society, and the Preservation Society of Newport. 

 Through our relationships with these museums, I became an active member of the Museum Store Association. I will dearly miss being part of this incredible organization. 

Then there were the button shows, annual gatherings where button collectors exchange knowledge and buttons. Leesa, Melissa, and Corda most often traveled with me to these, and I have pictures of them sifting through button poke boxes in places dotting the map from Maine to Oregon. Along the way, we ate lobsters, visited lighthouses, and explored wind-tossed beaches. The treasure trove of stunning buttons we gathered appeared in designs for months and sometimes years, continually reminding us of the fun we had.

L to R: Susan in the early 1990s buying buttons from beloved collectors Don and Martha Breen at the Pennsylvania Button Show; Susan in 1987 examining the spoils from a button show; she was expecting her daughter Anna in just two months.

Together we figured out a unique methodology for designing and handcrafting jewelry. Most jewelers start with an idea and then procure the elements needed to execute their vision, like gems or stones. We did the opposite. We always started with the hunt. The button hunts and the people I shared them with will always be among my most precious memories.

L to R: Susan at age 31 creating some of her earliest pieces; antique button collage brooches from the early 1990s; Susan in the retail store at age 55.

Looking back on these 37 years, I am most moved and humbled by the thousands upon thousands of customers who chose our jewelry as gifts for their most-loved family members and friends. I've saved a thick file of handwritten thank-you notes expressing gratitude to us for the perfect present for a mother, daughter, grandmother, wife, or best friend. 

Every Christmas morning for the last three and half decades, I've paused to ponder these gifts being unwrapped and to absorb my gratitude for our jewelry's widespread following. It is bittersweet to end that relationship with our customers, but I will be eternally thankful to have experienced it.

 So this goodbye letter is, in essence, a love letter to all of you. My family, our employees, our suppliers, and our customers. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for making our daily work a beautiful and heartwarming adventure. We will miss you all dearly. 

L to R: Anna and her brother Ben, at an event in our New Orleans store; Anna, Susan and Donny in the retail store; Anna at age 4 modeling the wares.