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."
Anna Weatherly History
Born in Budapest, Hungary, on the eve of World War II, Anna Weatherley has a background as rich and colorful as the surfaces of her handpainted porcelain. Her formative years were spent behind the Iron Curtain, where as a girl she was exposed to architectural splendor that was and continues to be a sustaining source of inspiration for her creative psyche. Her twenty-five year professional journey has routed her through faraway places, such as Australia and India, as well as the worlds of fashion and tabletop design. Through it all, she has maintained the heart of a romantic and the spirit of a rebel – characteristics that define the designs that make Anna Weatherley porcelain distinct in an industry employing most transfers or decals, her porcelain dinnerware is handpainted. But tabletop design was not Weatherley's first venture into the realm of creativity. Her career was determined by a circuitous series of events that began in Budapest and was inescapably tied to world politics.
In Hungary, Weatherley's father imported textiles, specializing in fine silks from Lyon, France. His death during the war left Weatherley and her mother destitute. After the war, her mother started a cottage industry importing hand woven wools. "She was creative but had no background," recalls Weatherley, "but she was desperate."
Eventually they escaped the stifling environment of Communist-controlled Hungary and took refuge in Australia. There Weatherley attended a technical college, studying painting and design. But it was a trip to visit relatives that would ultimately change the course of her personal and professional life. Through them, she met George Contis, a doctor specializing in international health; they married in 1971.
"Part of my family ended up in Afganistan - of all places," Weatherley explains. "They were doctors and worked for the World Health Organization. My mother's sister and her husband ended up in Kabul, and they asked me to come visit. There were no direct flights in the 1970s, so I stopped in India for a few days. India was magic for me. It was an eye-opener, and this is where I got my education."
In India, Weatherley began a journey of discovery, becoming enthralled with the country and its embroidery, textile and other hand-made techniques. Soon she met a maharajah who had a little studio that made chiffons for Paris designers. "I worked with the studio, making my own handpainted chiffon and embroidery, and became a fabric and embroidery designer, making chiffon tea dresses," She continues, "In the late 70s I came to America without knowing anybody and without having any appointments. You know how you can do anything when you don't know what you are doing? I went straight to Vogue with my swatches of beautiful handpainted chiffon. An editor actually saw me. She called Henri Bendel and made an appointment for me. My work ended up in the store window. It was like magic. People say 'America is the land of opportunity.' I am the poster girl for that. I wouldn't dare do that today."
Weatherley began introducing her dresses in shows all over the country. From her base in Washington, D.C., she traveled extensively. For ten years, she worked in the fashion industry, successfully selling her chiffon dresses to Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom and other high-end retailers. She counted Pamela Harriman and Lady Cotton among her private clients. "I never did anything practical – no sportswear, only my one of a kind dresses."
But her approach to business ran contrary to the tempo of the fashion industry, which thrives on collections and variety within them. It was not fashion-for-profit that motivated Weatherley as much as her overriding passion for the styles of 1920s and '30s Europe, which she saw as decades of glamour and beauty. Her designs represented a return to the romanticism. "Though we were poor when I was young, Budapest was rich in art. I was surrounded by beautiful marble and ironwork in architecture and furniture from the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods, and that got into my blood."
Eventually her enthusiasm for the artistry was importing was thwarted by the reality of New York's tough fashion industry. On October 19, 1987, when the stock market took its infamous dive, Weatherley left the fashion show she was giving at Neiman Marcus, went to hear salon near Watergate, locked the doors and became a housewife.
"That lasted for two weeks," she admits. "That was a tremendous bore." World events again augmented a change in Weatherley's professional direction. Glasnost provided the opportunity for the designer to return to her beloved Budapest. Curious to see what almost fifty years of government control had left of the artistic community, she found little to celebrate in terms of advancements, but in time she would find artists whose talents she viewed as promising though untrained. "They were making this ghastly stuff, but I thought they were diamonds in the rough."
In the years preceding her return to Hungary, Weatherley's appreciation for beauty had turned to the artistry of sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth-century botanical artists during trips to London's Victoria and Albert Museum. She took botanical books to Budapest to show her artists. "It took a long time to reeducate them. I was losing money, but I wanted to nurture them, and I didn't want to lose them. But I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do." Her first foray into the world of hand painted porcelain was miniature boxes, sold at the Atlanta Gift Show.
"Then I decided to try some plates." Working with her artists, she took a gamble and made some eighteenth-century-styled botanical plates, then headed to New York's gift and table top buildings. Overwhelmed by the volume of porcelain she saw, she never showed her wares. Disheartened, she returned home to an encouraging husband, who told her to try again. This time she made a cold call at the exclusive English purveyor Asprey & Garrad, which to her amazement purchased her plates on the spot.
"I knew I was on the right track," Weatherley recalls. Another fortuilous event had taken place at the Atlanta Gift Show when she met Tim DeVine, a New York representative of high-end tabletop lines such as Raynaud and Ercuis. Their meetings would result in a distribution partnership and a rethinking of her professional direction. Later she would become acquainted with David Spalding, buyer for Neiman Marcus' tabletop division and a painter as well. "He appreciated my work and encouraged me and gave me ideas about how to be more commercial."
That meant dinnerware sets. Each new collection became another journey of discovery. Weatherley's first collection, released in 1993, was named "Redoute Gardens" after the renowned botanical artist. Her intent was to emulate the spirit of the artist without replicating it exactly. Next came "Hooker Fruit," a collection of plates and serving pieces based on John Hooker's 1980s drawings. "What I loved about his fruit was that they were a bit damaged or a little bit rusty looking," Weatherley recalls. "After that every leaf I designed had to be torn or have a little hole in to make it looks like a bug had been having lunch on it."
Next came the tulips of Alexander Marshall – an experiment in color exploration. "Tulips are very gusty flowers," says the designer, "and the colors are absolutely amazing."
She then turned her attention to the pioneering work of one of the most unusual botanical painters of the seventeenth century, Maria Sibylla Merian, who went to the South American jungle where she found astounding array of flora and fauna – and bugs galore! "I faithfully painted her bugs, and nobody wanted to buy them."
But bugs were to play a key role in Weatherley's masterful artistic renderings. "One day I got a call from Budapest saying that the painters had just finished one of my collections and they found a large black spot on all the porelain." Undaunted, Weatherley followed the example of one of the world's greatest porcelain manufacturers – Meissen. "At the Smithsonian I learned that in the early days when Meissen had problems with production, bugs were sometimes painted over them."
A new design direction was born. "Bugs became my best seller with the introduction of 'Budapest Spring'" a delicate arrangement, mostly dominated by butterflies.
More garden series followed. "Pannonian Garden" was introduced in 1998 and pays homage to the bounty of florals that thrive around Hungary's countryside dwellings. Then came "Treasure Garden," which was inspired by the incredibly talented painter Ehret. "Vegetable Garden" was inspired by seventeenth-century Florentine painter Giovanna Garzoni and French painter Jacques le Moyne de Morgues, who painted vegetables and fruits he found in Florida in 1564.
Since much time was spent in Budapest and at tabletop shows throughout America, Weatherley had little time to create her own garden in Arlington; but no matter how long she was away, she always found weeds standing when she returned. Her testament to her virility is "Green Leaf." "Leaves have the most intricate texture and are more difficult to paint than a lush flower."
In the Spring of 2001, she introduced "Morning Glory", a flower found in abundance in Hungary. "This is one that God and I designed together, because it has an innocent charm and is fresh and young and not contrived. I wanted to have more free-form, which I like because a painter can exercise a little more personality."
Weatherley employs approximately forty painters in her Budapest studio. She has worked with the same painters for eleven years and knows their families well. Each specializes; men tend to paint the larger forms; women paint the details. Weatherley claims the secret to their success is in the way they mix colors. She searches the glove to acquire different porcelain shapes for her painters. Now she has added a line of hand-embroidered linens and silver-plated porcelain flatware. Each piece of dinnerware is slightly different, yet they mix and match beautifully, even "Waterlily" and "Fish," which take their cues from the aquatic world. Her most recent collection was for an exclusive launch with Neiman Marcus. Veering from her normal approach, "Amber and Ivory" features a monochromatic palette that relates to a poignant story of a nobleman who commissioned seventeenth- century painter Nicholas Robert to illustrate love poems with floral illustrations.
Decidedly romantic, Weatherley's porcelains also reflect her good humor and a spirit tempered by a world beyond her control. Within control is a commitment to studied beauty. In a frenzied world where few porcelain makers still hand paint their designs, her signature style gives us cause to pause and sigh.
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