Cute as a button

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Helene Elko with her arty button collection on display at Beadweavers in Luzerne in 2005.

Bracelets crafted by Helene Elko.

WILKES-BARRE — Helene Elko, 73, of Larksville has led a life as colorful as the tulips blooming throughout the area. Elko has been awarded the honor of serving as the featured artist for May’s Third Friday Art Walk, which begins at 5 p.m. on May 15 in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

Elko’s craft focuses on re-purposing buttons into bracelets, and sometimes necklaces.

“I first encountered the sort of weaving technique I use when I make these bracelets when I was in India with the Peace Corps in 1963,” Elko said. Elko joined the Peace Corps after graduating from Misericordia University. “While I was in India, I took up Indian classical dance. I needed to have ankle bells made for the dance, so I went down to the bazaar to do that. i saw the man wrap the material around his foot and intricately weave what eventually became those ankle bells.

“Sometime in the 90’s — 1993 or 1994, somewhere around that time — I saw a how-to article in a magazine that featured that very same weaving technique. Since then, I took up making these bracelets,” Elko said.

The intricacy of the technique requires a certain rhythmic cadence, according to Elko.

“I approach every piece musically, and with rhythm and balance,” Elko said.

Though she has always had a great interest in art, Elko did not intend to craft these bracelets as an art form initially.

“You know, one day a friend of mine said, ‘You look like you had a lot of fun making this,’ and I did. I was happy that message was conveyed to her, because I believe what makes any good art good is when someone picks up a piece and receives the artist’s message. When that message is conveyed to the largest amount of people, you have succeeded as an artist,” Elko said.

Elko enjoys working with buttons for that reason. Each button has a message behind it, its own history.

“Buttons are one of the most collectible items on the planet. They are historical. They are used to commemorate people and events, which makes them so personal. I consider these pieces wear-able art,” Elko said.

Elko is one of many artists participating in this month’s Third Friday Art Walk. Third Friday continues to evolve at the behest of Chairperson Anne Rodella, incorporating a new Third Friday Travel Card for the month of May. Walkers who visit seven or more venues will be eligible to win prizes with this card, including tickets to the Sunday performances of the Pennsylvania Blues Festival, tickets to the Briggs Farm Blues Festival and a pair of tickets to Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band & Johnny Lang at the F.M. Kirby Center.

May’s Third Friday Art After 8 party spot will be located at Bart and Urby’s. For more information, visit