Lana Effron, a Denver-based graphic designer with an online shop and a collaboration with Terrain, the home and garden retailer, has a motto she brings to all her work.
"Nice matters," Effron says. "That little bit extra of something handmade, something original, makes even a small gesture significant and special. Every touch of 'nice' put out there makes a big difference in the world."
Her collection for Terrain is an array of cotton tea towels hand-painted with winsome baby woodland animals and posies. You could use them as cup dryers, but they're pretty enough to serve as napkins at teatime, too.
Tea drinking seems to be steeped in that feel-good vibe. A mug of coffee might be chugged on the way out to battle the day. But a cup of tea invites a moment of calm, a gentle conversation, an invitation to share, a gesture of consideration. So a tea-related item might be the perfect thing any time a gift of quiet kindness is in order.
New York City designer Michael Michaud is known for his botanical-themed jewelry, but he also crafts home accessories (also at Terrain). Each piece includes delicate details of flowers and leaves that Michaud is able to retain by casting molds over the actual materials. Napkin rings molded on gingko leaves, for example, are bathed in a soft, gold metallic finish. Petite orange blossom teaspoons are cast on foraged leaves and flowers, clad in gold- and silver-plated bronze, then finished with tiny seed pearls. A set of bronze-finished pewter teaspoons has the distinctive print of a honeycomb on the bowl, with a little bee on the tip of the handle. Bronze condiment spoons are formed so the shape of a calla lily becomes the bowl.
At Uncommon Goods, you can find work by ceramic artists for tea time. Colleen Huth of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was inspired by the idea of baby animals following their mother to the watering hole; she celebrates mom's guidance and care in a collection of clay mugs stamped with imagery of elephant, duck, deer and bear families. Potter and animal lover JoAnn Stratakos of Effort, Pennsylvania, carves endangered animals onto her stoneware mugs; for each mug sold, $5 goes to Global Wildlife Conservation. Sales of her rhinoceros mugs help support PARCA, a rhino advocacy organization.
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And in East Hampstead, New Hampshire, artisan Donna Rollins infuses her ceramic clay with minerals, then finishes each one by placing a crystal on the handle; choose from tiger eye, amethyst, rose quartz and clear quartz.
British artist Clare Twomey created a teacup-oriented exhibition in 2013 at London's Foundling Museum to celebrate the Foundling Hospital, a children's charity dating to 1739. The exhibition, entitled Exchange , involved 1,550 cups and saucers, each carrying a printed exhortation to perform a good deed, or what Twomey calls "a positive action." They range from the simple, like "recycle plastic bags," ''smile more" or "say thank you to a teacher," to the more involved, like "make dinner for someone in need" or "give time not money to a good cause."
Twomey chose simple, unembellished cups and saucers from ceramics maker Dudson. "The requirement I applied to the design was that it had to be very everyday, not hierarchical or special," she said.
If visitors agreed to take on the good deed, they could take the cup home; the saucer remained at the museum. People could then keep their deed fulfillment a secret or share on the museum's Tumblr site; you can read those at www.exchangegooddeeds-blog.tumblr.com. Years after the exhibition, some were still working on their good deed. Colin Coleman, for instance, posted a photo of himself and his cup on the site in 2016, saying: "It gives me great pleasure to inform you that several years after your exhibition, I have finally managed to complete the mission cited on the base of the teacup I took."
Coleman was to return a hat to a person who'd had it blown off in the wind. He wrote that the recipient of the gesture loved the idea that they'd been part of a long-term artwork.
As English playwright Sir Arthur Pinero wrote, "where there's tea, there's hope."