Italy has been inspiring creative people for millenia; its climate, natural beauty, food, wine and culture can be irresistable! For Australian jewellery maker, Catherine Hutton, a trip to northern Italy changed her life forever.
Question: When did you first go to Italy, and what was it about this country that interested you the most?
I first went very briefly in 1991 but it was another ten years before I started going for intensive language courses and recognised that I had discovered my genetic homeland. I had studied the Italian Renaissance at school and university and continued to read extensively on this and later periods so that when I finally got to Italy I had the historical context in which to really appreciate what I was seeing and hearing. And so much of this glorious past is still there! One of my most memorable experiences was being directed into the centre of Rovigo by an elderly bookseller using one of his seventeenth century town maps to show me the way.
You now create unique, one-off pieces of jewellery using antique Italian buttons; how did you first think to do this?
I began to realise that you could still find beautiful old buttons if you looked hard enough on antique market stalls – any battered biscuit tin that rattled when you shook it was worth investigating – or if you ventured down some of the back streets in small towns where there still might be an old-fashioned haberdashery shop run by a couple of elderly sisters. I felt that the button treasures that I found had to be brought out of oblivion and the best way to do this was to wear them. So I started experimenting with ways to mount buttons as brooches and to knot them on cords as necklaces, people admired my pieces when I wore them myself and things just took off from there.
How often to you travel to Italy and what are some of your favourite parts of the country and why?
The area I know best is the Veneto and its adjoining provinces which contain some of the most charming and unspoilt small towns in Italy, such as Pordenone which has a main street lined with sixteenth century frescoed palaces and Vittorio Veneto whose main square could be the setting for any of Boccaccio’s tales.
I go every year to visit the button-collectors I’ve met over the years and to cruise the antiquarian markets held in towns such as Bologna and Verona, as well as in smaller towns such as Treviso and Vicenza. I always try to arrange my trip around a visit to the 500-stall antique market held monthly in the grounds of a Venetian villa at Piazzola sul Brenta.
Question: Where do you get your ideas from, and what inspires you?
It’s impossible not to be inspired by Italian creativity. I am always impressed by the innovative way that goods are displayed in shop windows with that innate sense of style that the Italians have developed over the thousands of years that they have been creating beautiful things. And you only have to sit over a coffee in the local piazza for half an hour and watch immaculately dressed men and women parading past to see that style in action. By taking tiny representations of that creative past and turning them into something that resonates today I can feel part of that wonderful tradition of craftsmanship.
Question: As well as making unique jewellery, do you have any other creative pursuits?
I have made my own clothes since I was ten and I remember particularly liking the challenge of fitting the pattern components into a piece of fabric that wasn’t quite big enough. Nowadays I look out for garments in unusual fabric from the op-shop and alter them to fit. And if the resulting outfit really works for me I can always make a necklace to complement it.
Catherine’s unique jewellery is now available at the Creative & Co Store – 325 Bong Bong St, Bowral, NSW, Australia