Laura Bush unveils new state china

January 7, 2009 10:55:37 AM PST
First lady Laura Bush showed off a new gold-rimmed set of official George W. Bush state china on Wednesday, with less than two weeks to use it before the family packs up for Texas. The $493,000 set was inspired by a few pieces of green basketweave-patterned French china in the White House collection believed to have come from James and Dolley Madison. It was paid for by a privately funded trust of the White House Historical Association, which also purchased a second, less formal set.

Laura Bush said the china has been in the works for several years and the family had hoped to be able to use it, but the process took longer than expected.

"So I hope that the next family, and I know they will be happy to have these two sets, as well, to be able to entertain their heads of state that come in, as well as for their closest family and friends," she said in the White House Family Dining Room.

The Bush family moves out of the White House Jan. 20, the same day President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in.

Officials did not believe the new china would be used for President Bush's lunch Wednesday with Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, because it is still being unpacked.

Former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton also unveiled official china shortly before leaving the White House. That set and a famously expensive one commissioned by Nancy Reagan are the plates now used for large events, but the Bush china has more place settings - 320 - than either of those.

Laura Bush said she commissioned the dinnerware because of breakage and a need for more settings for larger events, and added a second Magnolia-patterned set for $74,000 for use at private family dinners and smaller events.

She said she was aware of criticism her predecessors received for buying expensive china, but said it was paid for with private money and that when the process started, "the economy was a lot better than it is today."

She was also careful to use U.S. companies Lenox Inc., and Pickard China to produce the plates, although some design work was done in Hungary for artist Anna Weatherley, who created the magnolia set inspired by the trees on the White House lawn.

The first lady also unveiled a new yellow rug framed with eagles and flower swags in the Family Dining Room and a second rug in the Diplomatic Reception Room featuring a bald eagle framed by a sunburst with emblems from each of the 50 states. That rug has been in the works for three years, said White House Curator Bill Allman.


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