On today’s episode of the Craft Industry Alliance podcast, we’re talking about buttons with my guest Beau McCall.

Proclaimed by American Craft magazine as “The Button Man,” Beau McCall creates wearable and visual art by applying clothing buttons onto mostly upcycled fabrics, materials, and objects. His artworks offer commentary on topics such as pop culture and social justice. On March 30th his first-ever retrospective exhibition debuts at Fuller Craft Museum titled, Beau McCall: Buttons On! 

This episode is sponsored by Craftsy.

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We begin this interview with Beau talking about growing up in public housing in Philadelphia with a creative mother who had a flair for home decorating and a father who worked at a pencil factory. Beau was always creative and tried many different crafts, with support from his mother. He talks about learning to upcycle and embellish his clothing, creating his own strappy sandals from a pair of Keds, and cutting up his jeans. Beau noticed a jar of buttons on a basement stair and began experimenting with them, becoming intrigued by the possibilities they presented.

Beau talks about moving to New York and figuring out the fashion scene, participating in shows in Harlem and learning to navigate the garment district. After several years of building his creative practice, Beau became disheartened when several friends passed away from the AIDS crisis and for other reasons. Meeting his life partner, Souleo, reignited his creativity and helped push his art practice forward.

A piece commissioned by Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Beau describes some of his favorite pieces, detailing the different ways he works with buttons. I ask him whether he ever feels limited by being known as The Button Man, but Beau says the endless shape, texture, material, and sounds of buttons keep him continually interested in working with them.

We discuss this image from his website and how it was created.

Beau McCall, Button Yoke and Apron Ensemble: Flower Power, 2021.

And, of course, I ask Beau to recommend great stuff he’s enjoying right now. Beau recommends:

Be sure to stop by Beau’s retrospective exhibit, Beau McCall: Buttons On!, at the Fuller Craft Museum March 30, 2024-February 2, 2025.