About Anna Weatherley Designs
As an international designer, Anna Weatherley's career has included designing and manufacturing couture fashion, jewelry, home furnishings, and printed textiles. In the early 1990's she established a studio in Budapest, Hungary where she trained a group of highly talented painters to create her collection of hand-painted porcelain.
Hand-painted porcelain has a long tradition in Hungary going back almost two centuries. The artisans in Anna Weatherley's studio are trained in the classical painting tradition. Only the best painters are capable of mixing the colors and painting the delicate details of her designs. Each piece is not merely a pretty painted object, but also a work of art. Although her painters are trained in the traditional style, Anna Weatherley's designs are not classical porcelain patterns. Her designs are inspired by the early botanical illustrators and flower painters of the 18th Century Europe such as Redoute, Hooker, and Ehret. Dutch still-life paintings have also been a source of design inspiration. Ms. Weatherley's porcelain tulip collection is based on the work of Alexander Marshal whose rare paintings are preserved in the Royal Library of Windsor Castle.
The colors are carefully applied on the porcelain with fine brushes in many shadings and fired several times at high temperatures. This time-consuming and meticulous process in the hands of master porcelain painters produces the most detailed and sumptuous rendering of nature's treasures. Flowers, fruits, butterflies and delightful bugs are given new life on the lustrous surface of fine white porcelain.
The flowers and fruits are painted mostly by men. Each painter has a distinct technique and his own secret way of mixing colors to create the "painting-like" effect. Women tend to be the experts in painting the charming bugs and butterflies with miniature detailed wings and legs and gold-dipped eyes. The grasshopper is a favorite and each one is given a different personality. Softly brushed golden borders on the porcelain are painted by a single painter with special mastery in this special application technique. While Anna Weatherley's designs are refreshingly rooted in history, they are equally at home in contemporary or traditional settings. Her collection is sold in fine specialty shops, antique stores, and decorator studios throughout the United States.
News for Anna Weatherley Designs
An Aftertaste of Afghanistan in the White House Dining Room
Vanity Fair / Writer: John Clarke Jr.
Earlier this year, when Anna Weatherley delivered her magnolia-patterned china set to the White House, the accompanying spate of profiles covered every aspect of her career—except one: gun runner. Was it true, as the whispers around Washington had it, that she had a secret history as a gun-runner in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan? Not quite, although the truth is just as curious.
Weatherley was no Soldier-of-Fortune radical or a Patty Hearst-styled weekend warrior. Her focus, she says, was always on design.
A few years before the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Weatherley, a fashionable, mini-skirted Washingtonian, followed her eye for style to Kabul to search out guns, fabric, and furniture, which she sold to shops and private buyers in Australia. “I’d buy and ship these great 19th-century guns that the British left behind, beautiful guns with ivory and mother-of-pearl,” she says. “I was naïve and inexperienced.”
Did she ever cross paths with Congressman Charlie Wilson, the Texas Democrat whose back-room efforts to finance the mujahideen were the subject of a 2008 film starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts? “No. It really had nothing to do with the Afghan war. I was there before Afghanistan was the place to go. Kabul was a fairy-tale place then, and I felt very secure and safe there. It breaks my heart now with all that’s going on there.”
In the bazaars of Kabul, Weatherley quickly ran through antique-gun supply. “I wasn’t an expert,” she says. “But I knew these guns were beautiful and decorative. I became such a successful gun buyer that the dealers realized that this was something wonderful. Kabul was just an isolated place then. I was more or less a pioneer.”
Weatherley’s well-heeled customers, she says, had never seen guns like hers. When she exhausted their stock, bazaar merchants recognized the hot commodity and fooled buyers by removing mother-of-pearl buttons from clothing and gluing them onto ordinary firearms.
With her supplies exhausted, she dropped guns and picked up chiffon. In Washington during the 1970s and 80s, Weatherley had built a successful dress-design business, creating one-of-a-kind garments out of hand-painted, hand-embroidered silk. Elizabeth Taylor, Lady Bird Johnson, and a roll call of D.C.’s stylish doyennes picked up pieces at her townhouse near Watergate or at upscale stores like Henri Bendel and Saks. “Anyone who was anyone in Washington came to buy my dresses,” she says. “This was when Washington society was grand. I hope it comes back, but I’m afraid it’s gone forever.”
Washington’s hostesses still turn to Weatherley for a touch of grandeur, but now it’s for their tabletops. Her current venture is hand-painted porcelain dinnerware, sold at 400 stores across the country but also available in one-of-a-kind designs, just like her dresses used to be. When the Princess of Wales made a trip to the capital, Katharine Graham held a luncheon in her honor and gave specially commissioned Weatherley porcelain as gifts to guests. The same visit prompted Anna Wintour to place an order for a present for Princess Diana. Weatherley, who specializes in detailed flower patterns reminiscent of 18th-century European botanical illustrations, produced a pair of cachepots decorated with pears, cherries, and gooseberries in the style of well-known British illustrators for a subtle U.K. theme.
Weatherley’s custom-order clients might be able to specify exactly what they want, but that doesn’t mean they get it quickly. A native of Hungary, she employs 60 master painters there to execute her designs. It’s painstaking work; one plate takes two days to paint, and a large dinner set might take as long as three months. “People don’t buy plates because they need plates,” she says. “Having something hand-painted is a dying art. Nowhere in the world can people do such fine work. I have older workers … and when they are gone, it’s over.”
And then there’s the First Family. When they arrived at the White House, the Obamas were already furnished with 75 seven-piece place settings of the Magnolia Residence China Service, featuring magnolia blossoms, butterflies, and insects in a design inspired by the flora and fauna found on the White House grounds. The dinner set, which cost $74,000, was delivered during the last week of the Bush administration and never used. “I hope the Obamas like it and use it,” Mrs. Bush told reporters before she left the White House. “I think she’ll have fun discovering all of those.”
Today, the gun business is a distant memory, and Weatherley is focused on her plates and trying to reach a male demographic. “I’m working on new designs for men. Designs with interesting birds and fish. You probably don’t know anything about flowery porcelain plates, right? You think like a guy and very few men like you know about such things.” Why not gun motifs or Audubon designs? “Yes!” she says. “That’s it! See, you are now thinking like a guy!”
Anna Weatherley in the Washington Post: The Dish on Designer of Bush China
from the Washington Post / Writer: Jura Koncius
January 15, 2009
The hand-painted china of Arlington's Anna Weatherley made history last week when it was chosen as the first "informal" White House china.
First lady Laura Bush showed off the custom Magnolia Residence China Service to reporters on the table of the Family Dining Room. The dishes, made by Pickard China in Illinois and hand-painted by Weatherley's artisans in Budapest, are meant to be used in the private quarters of the White House. Weatherley says Bush had seen her work on several friends' dinner tables. Pointing out intricate details on the magnolia blossoms and leaves and the fanciful dragonflies and butterflies, the first lady commented, "Anna Weatherley is a true American success story."
The Hungarian-born designer, whose graceful patterns are sold in 400 stores including Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, had some interesting assignments even before the White House commission. She once created a pair of porcelain cachepots decorated with 18th-century-style pears, cherries and gooseberries for Anna Wintour to give to Princess Diana. ("That is a great memory," Weatherley says.) Last year she made a luncheon set painted with flowers and butterflies to donate to Blair House, the president's guesthouse.
"This was very meaningful to me. I am so happy to be in America and be part of Washington. It's a bit of a miracle, and I was honored that they accepted it," she says.
Weatherley has been a designer in the Washington area for 40 years. She left Hungary when her father, a silk importer, moved his family to Australia in the 1950s. She studied art and design and became enamored with the cultures of India, Afghanistan and the Far East. Weatherley started a business importing furniture and textiles from Kabul to Sydney and eventually met her future husband, George Weatherley, a doctor, on a trip to Afghanistan. They moved to the Washington area in the late 1960s.
Weatherley has spent her life using her artistic talents to reinvent herself. "Now I can look back and say I have had like four lives rolled into one," she says.
The dish on Weatherley hasn't always been about china. Until recently, she designed table linens that were hand-embroidered in France, but they became very expensive because of the falling value of the dollar against the euro. She has always enjoyed designing dramatic statement necklaces with semi-precious stones such as amethysts and crystals.
She was a well-known local fashion designer in the 1970s and 1980s. Her hand-painted chiffon dresses, worn by Lady Bird Johnson, Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Fonda, were sold at her atelier in Foggy Bottom and in New York at Henri Bendel and Bloomingdale's. But after the 1980s stock market meltdown, her $400 frocks didn't seem viable. "My little dresses were special one-of-a-kind pieces and so decadent and luxurious," she says. "I realized I would not be able to keep this up."
With the advent of glasnost, Weatherley was able to go back to her native country and start doing business there in porcelain. "I always liked hand-painting because my fabrics were painted and embroidered," she says. She also loves botanical art. She tracked down some painters and started a fine-china business in 1990: "I told them to forget everything they ever did and study the style of 17th-century Dutch paintings." She has about 40 painters now working for her in Budapest. "Some of my painters only do butterflies, and some do only fish or birds -- it's a very specialized art," she says. "That's why it takes so long."
Weatherley says that old European porcelain companies began painting little insects to cover tiny imperfections in their china, a practice she found charming. "But my bugs have to be nice and happy-looking. People don't mind eating on bugs if they are cute and pretty," she says.
Soon, another presidential family, the Obamas, will be drinking tea and eating salad on her dinnerware. "It's humbling," Weatherley says. "I just hope they really use it, because I put a lot of love into it."
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