Peace, love and politics, the ‘Button Man’ is everywhere in Colorado Springs
Author: Debbie Kelley, The Gazette - March 27, 2018 - Updated: March 28, 2018
COLORADO SPRINGS — Some people volunteer at school or for a charity. Others pick up trash or stop to help someone change a tire. Tom Howes creates buttons and gives them away.
“It’s just so much fun to see people smile,” he says.
A retired elementary school teacher and current adventure guide, Howes has been spreading love, peace and cheer through his unusual hobby for 15 years.
Lately, the messages have turned political, and he’s handing out buttons at marches and protests.
He planned to attend at Saturday’s March for Our Lives rally in support of school safety with lots of buttons on.
As usual, they would be free for the taking.
The colorful, blingy pin-on buttons available at the march featured such political phrases as “March for Our Lives,” “Vote – Opportunity Abounds,” “Resist,” “Stop the NRA,” “Nevertheless She Persisted,” “Make Your Voice Heard” and “We Can Do It.”
He also offered calming messages of unity and hope.
Some buttons let his drawings do the talking — Superwoman holding a psychedelic peace symbol, Snoopy as a peace dog or the current hands-down favorite, Donald Trump’s mug inside a circle with a “no” slash through it and a dollop of dirty-blond hair from a thrift-store doll hot-glued to the top.
Whatever the cause, Howes has it covered. For children, Hello Kitty and Spider-man. For sports fans, the Broncos logo. For spiritual types, messages of Faith, Hope and Love.
Others that are in demand: A storm trooper embracing a peace sign and “Stop Wars,” featuring Yoda from “Star Wars” holding a butterfly.
Everywhere Howes goes, he wears one of his buttons and has become known as the “Button Man.”
If he sees someone at the grocery store or a restaurant with a Superman shirt or a “Star Wars” tattoo, for example, he’ll give them a button with a complementary design.
“Sometimes they look at me like ‘Who is that masked man?'”
He recently met a newlywed couple in their 70s. They got his favorite button: “I Believe in Love” with a graceful heart graphic.
“At the Atlanta airport, we handed out buttons that say “Impeach” with a peach on it,” Howes said. “People loved that one because of the Georgia peach.”
Howes’ wife, Beth, assists with the project.
The pastime started when Howes was an elementary school teacher in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12, and the principal wanted students to wear buttons with their names on them so students could get to know one another.
Howes decided to craft individual buttons for students, and the activity grew from there.
He does all the design work and many of the drawings. He prints the images from his computer and uses a simple hand-press machine to turn them into wearable art. Glittery fingernail polish and stick-on embellishments such as hearts and faux gems complete the look.
“I go through a lot of printer ink,” he said.
Howes estimates he makes 500 buttons per month, at a cost of 35 cents apiece. But he says it’s worth the investment and time.
Sometimes, he spots people wearing one of his buttons in public, and a sense of joy overcomes him.
“Some people donate to the Democratic Party or some other cause; this is our donation,” Howes says.
He wasn’t very politically active until Donald Trump was elected president. Then, he said, he started leaning more toward the left and has handed out buttons at numerous politically motivated events. He also made free buttons for local students participating in the March 14 walkout calling for gun reform and an end to school violence.
Howes is careful about who he approaches, so as not to offend or provoke anyone who might disagree with the message on his buttons.
“I’m not that into politics, but it’s exciting to hand out buttons,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed the creative aspect and the smiles they get.”