The First Lady's gifts reference President Lincoln, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, and include the sweetest part of her food policy agenda
The beehive that's part of the White House Kitchen Garden has been providing honey for White House meals since official beekeeper Charlie Brandts first harvested it in June, and now its sweetness is going global, thanks to The Pittsburgh Summit. According to the White House, Mrs. Obama will be presenting G20 Spouses with a “one-of-a-kind porcelain tea set and honey vase designed exclusively for the occasion of The Pittsburgh Summit 2009, with honey harvested especially for the occasion from the White House beehive." That's got to be the best formal gift to originate from the White House to date, and it's also both an easy and completely appropriate call that Mrs. Obama is including a bit of the White House Kitchen Garden. Last week at the opening of the new Farmers Market by the White House, the First Lady noted that the garden is not only "one of the greatest things I've done in my life so far," but she also mentioned that it's the topic she's asked about most frequently by foreign dignitaries and heads of state (Bo the dog is the runner up for most popular conversation topic). Thus the Spouse Gift is both very personal, and will also be much appreciated. (Above: Mrs. Obama and President Obama await the arrival of world leaders at The Phipps Conservatory last night)
The special tea set was made by Pickard China of Antioch, Illinois, the Obamas home state. Pickard is a family owned biz--and also just happens to make the china for Air Force One, Camp David, Blair House, and the State Department--although you, too, can order your custom china from the company. The glass honey vase was designed by Caleb Siemon, a California glassblower, who's gone on the record that he believes glassblowers are "pyromaniacs at heart." He's a terrific pyromaniac, and his work is much collected. To further personalize the gift, Mrs. Obama signed the specially designed honey vases that Siemon designed. (Above: the official G20 Spouse gifts; below, the honey vase)
The official White House announcement about Mrs. Obama's gifts has more background and details on the reasoning behind the gift selections, and we've added the referential images:
*The Tea Set: The platinum and purple porcelain design of the tea cups is classic and contemporary and inspired by the gold and purple White House China that President and Mrs. Lincoln used in 1861. The use of platinum on the saucer symbolizes Pittsburgh's steel industry roots; the use of purple is the color of the state flower of Illinois, the Purple Violet, home states of both Presidents Lincoln and Obama. The porcelain is one-of-a-kind. (Photo: Original Lincoln china)
*A rose in the bottom of the tea cup represents both the official flower of the United States and the American Beauty rose, the official flower of Washington. There is a delicate three-flower bouquet that sits in the well of the saucer. It consists of the Purple Violet, the state flower of Illinois, the Mountain Laurel, the state flower of Pennsylvania (in photo) and the rose.
*The glass honey vase is an original design inspired by nature and made of a brilliant lead- free crystal mined from minerals found only in the United States.
White House chef and Food Initiative Coordinator Sam Kass has said that the White House beehive is expected to produce more than 100 pounds of honey this year, so there's plenty of honey to be handed out as state gifts, in addition to being used for White House occasions. Kass has also called the beehive "one of the greatest achievements of the garden." (Above: The beehive on the South Lawn of the White House).
The Lincoln china that Mrs. Obama's gift tea set is based upon was created by Mary Todd Lincoln, who was the first First Lady to choose her own china set. The pink-purple color is called "Solferino," and was created by the E.V. Haughwout company of New York; 190 pieces were in the original set. And there are no worries that the Official Obama Spouse Gift is too "feminine" for the male G20 spouses: Neither Joachim Sauer, husband of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, nor Nestor Kirchner, husband of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, are in Pittsburgh. Though tea is not only bipartisan, it's also enjoyed by men, isn't it?
*Related G20 posts: The reception at The Phipps Conservatory; Foods at the G20 are local, organic, sustainable; Climate protesters get in gear.
*Photos of the White House Beehive are from last week, when Obama Foodorama was shooting the Kitchen Garden. Lincoln China picture from the Raleigh DeGeer Amyx collection, a private collection of White House china from many administrations. Top photo by Getty pool.