April showers bring May flowers, but these buttons tell a more interesting story. In the 1940s plastics were quickly being incorporated into all aspects of everyday life. Lightweight, inexpensive, and available in a wide range of colors, plastic was popular with designers and manufacturers of countless goods—including women’s accessories. Nylon was invented in 1938 allowing pantyhose to hit the market as early as 1940. And, even during wartime, fashion-forward embellishments like these buttons were available to an evolving group of American women moving into the workforce. A prominent female figure in the early years of the industrial design profession, Marion Weeber Welsh, produced designs for products such as silverware and jewelry. These winking suns embody that moment in history: as the hand-painted faces represent a more craft-based past, the bold shapes and colors hint at a very modern future.
The buttons are made of cellulose nitrate, which is an inherently unstable plastic. Over time, cellulose nitrate reacts with elements from the surrounding environment causing the crazed surface now visible. Conservators work to impede further deterioration by using specifically developed storage materials that capture and absorb harmful acids. Good preservation practices ensure these buttons survive to see those May flowers.