The secret life of Dalton Stevens was born in the quiet of 2:00 am, in the even quieter town of Bishopville, South Carolina. (Population = more or less 3,000.) Stevens, then 53, had recently developed insomnia. “I didn’t have nothin’ to do,” he said. Then he picked up a button.
He started bedazzling an old jumpsuit while his wife, Sue, slept. By the time he finished the suit years later, it was covered with 16,333 buttons. Although, that was nothing compared to the car…
He used contact cement to fix 150,000 buttons on his 1983 Chevy Chevette. “I wouldn’t quit. I wouldn’t stop,” he said. “I’d go four and five days and never go to bed.” He even made a button-embellished lavatory:
Naturally, the suits also multiplied:
Dalton was soon crowned “The Button King” by his community, and his curious hobby made him a darling of the outsider art world. “I’m proud of it, and it was perfect for me, kinda like it was meant to be,” he said. “But if I didn’t have a reason for doing it, yeah, I’d think it was strange.”
Then there’s his chef d’ouevre: the button-laden coffin and hearst. Apparently, he covered the vehicle with 600,000 buttons, but had to start over on his coffin when he accidentally locked himself inside. He built a second coffin to go on display in his home, which he planned to have transformed into a “button museum” after his death.
“A casket ain’t depressing when it’s covered in buttons,” said Dalton. When he passed away in 2008, his family helped make his little atelier into a veritable museum in his honour.
“I’ve just done something in life to make people happy,” explained Dalton, “whether you’re a baby or 90.” Learn more about visiting the free museum here, and try not to fall in love with the Button King in this documentary about his life and work. It’s well worth a watch: