Button Designs by Frieda Warther
Almost everyone keeps a container of buttons someplace in their home. At one time, many cut off the buttons on old clothes and kept them in a jar or can. You never knew when you might need an extra button.
Frieda Warther did much the same thing.
Living in Switzerland until the age of four, the family then came to the United States and settled in Dover, Ohio. Frieda was the oldest of thirteen children. It was a Swiss tradition that the oldest child would receive their mother’s box of buttons and sewing tools. Thus began Frieda’s love of buttons.
Today those buttons have been used in some of the designs at the Warther Button House, which is just outside Warther’s Museum in Dover.
When Frieda first met Earnest Warther, called Mooney by his friends, their first date consisted of a field trip to hunt arrowheads. After marrying Mooney, Frieda became a wonderful mother to their five children and Mooney’s main support as he developed into a master woodcarver.
Her main relaxation came from tending the gardens outside their home and Mooney’s workshop. She designed them to remind her of her back yard in Switzerland. When the children were young, these gardens contained many vegetables as well. Today, those flower gardens provide a peaceful place to relax with many benches available.
Mooney frequently ‘borrowed’ items from his wife to use in his carving creations. When he needed a belt to run one of his model trains, he would borrow it from her sewing machine and replace it when he found one in his journeys. He often liked to use red and green sparkling gems on his trains as well. These he borrowed from Frieda’s brooches.
When visitors came to see all of Mooney’s carvings in those early days, they often spent the afternoon viewing trains brought from storage in the various rooms of their house and even the attic. Frieda decided in 1936, it was time for a museum, so they built the small museum, which is today her Button House.
The porch of the Warther Home gave Mooney and Frieda the perfect place to watch trains go by on tracks just across the street. From here they could also watch their children playing in a large playground Mooney had created for them. It’s no surprise that there is a red caboose there also, since Mooney carved so many trains during his lifetime.
Inside the Warther Home, you’ll learn more about Frieda and the family. They lived in their original residence for sixty-three years.
Life was busy for young Frieda, so it wasn’t until she turned sixty that she began working on her button designs at their dining room table. She began experimenting with various combinations and then attached them to a board with either wire or dental floss to make beautiful hanging designs.
Mooney enjoyed her artistic endeavors by saying, “Sometimes while Frieda was working, she would drill too deep and hit our table. One look at her breathtaking designs and you will realize it was well worth all the holes.” Those holes can still easily be seen.
She also used buttons to make jewelry, a button tree, chess sets and many games. Strings of buttons hung in her kitchen just waiting to be used.
Today many of those creations containing 73,000 buttons can be found on the walls and ceiling of the Button House. Here you will find buttons of many kinds of materials: hand-painted ceramic, pearl, metal and wooden. Amazing as it may sound, there are no duplicates in the displays.
One of her favorite designs has, as its centerpiece, a button from the Inaugural Dress of Abraham Lincoln’s wife. Lincoln was a favorite of the Warthers, and Mooney followed Lincoln’s philosophy of life.
Because the family loved children, Frieda made one design especially for them. It consists of Cracker Jack prizes, novelties, and what she called Goofy Buttons.
If you look carefully, you can also spot her button designs in another spot – the ladies’ restroom inside the Warther Museum. Had to inquire from a gentleman visitor regarding what was on the wall in the men’s restroom. Here Frieda made a creative display of Mooney’s arrowheads he found on his trips to the country with their family. You never know where creative objects might be found.
There are still unfinished patterns that Frieda had planned. Even when she was in her final days at the age of 98, she was still asking people for one of their buttons if she saw an unusual one.
Soon thousands of springtime tulips will be blooming in Frieda’s Swiss Flower Garden. Many of the spring flowers were originally planted by Freida. Stop by and relax on a bench and imagine what it would have been like to live at “Dumb Street” along the Calico Ditch.
Warthers Museum can be found easily off I-77 in Dover, Ohio. Take Exit 83 to the east and follow the well placed signs to Warthers.