Wednesday Nathan and I set out for Bishopville, SC to meet two internationally recognized self-taught artists, Dalton Stevens and Pearl Fryar. When we arrived in Bishopville, we first visited Dalton Stevens's Button Museum on the outskirts of town.
|The Button King strumming a tune (photo by Nathan Redding)|
Dalton Stevens's button career began a couple decades back when his insomnia left him alone in a quiet house after television signed off at 2am. To pass the time, he began sewing buttons onto a pair of denim paints. After two years, he completed his button additions on an entire denim suit. Since the suit, Stevens has expanded his repertoire to include two other suits, hats, two coffins (one for him and one as testimony to his work indefinitely), a Chevrolet Chevette, a hearse, an outhouse, a bathtub and sink, a piano, a guitar and a grandfather clock.
|Three button-ized suits in the Button Museum (photo by Nathan Redding)|
|Button-clad outhouse (photo by Nathan Redding)|
The uniqueness of Stevens' work has led to his identification as the Button King as well as world-wide recognition. In the Button Museum, an entire wall is dedicated to magazines and literature that features the Button King including two editions of the Guinness Book of World Records and Time. The adjacent wall features signed photographs of celebrities who hosted Stevens on their show including Johnny Carson, Regis and Kathie Lee and Bill Cosby. Beyond the attention received for his work, the Button King said that he has received requests to participate in parades across the United States. He also shared with us that BMW asked him to button-ize a car for them (but he turned the offer down).
|The Button King's hearse (photo by Nathan Redding)|
|Button-ized Chevy Chevette (photo by Nathan Redding)|
Meeting Dalton Stevens and visiting his Button Museum was an adventure. I found his innovation and creativity fascinating. From our time together last Wednesday, what stood out to me was that he sees his work more as a hobby than art. As Stevens said, he began his button-mania because he had nothing else to do while his family slept at night. Thus, sewing and gluing buttons became a pastime. However, I believe the Button King's work can still be considered art, especially considering Ellen Dissanayake's book Homo aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why. In her book, Dissanayake states that art is more than creating an aesthetic piece— it's a behavior. In fact, it is natural for humans to create art on a regular basis. Dalton Steven's act of adhering buttons to interesting subjects is a natural and innate behavior. It also happens that his button behavior creates aesthetic products. Thus, the Button King's work is art in both senses of the word.
If you wish to see the Button King's work, visit:
The Button Museum
55 Joe Dority Road
Bishopville, SC 29010
*call ahead to make sure the museum is open*
**The Button Museum has no fee, but donations are accepted**
You can also visit his personal website at: http://scbuttonking.com/
|Decorative steering wheel inside Chevy Chevette (photo by Nathan Redding)|