Handpainted China

Handpainted China

My grandma’s china cabinet stood in the corner of her tiny dining room my whole childhood. I think it’s a good guess that it might have been the only piece of furniture in her home that never moved. It contained white china plates with gold rims I always coveted and pretty tea cups with green background and pink roses. It wasn’t until years later I realized that all the pieces actually matched – the scalloped gold rims on the teacups matched the rimmed white china plates and teapot – my grandma had painted them, a tiny ‘Willaphene’ signed on a floral stem on the saucers.

I’m sitting in my living room in Belgium, a piece of her china in my hands. My phone is tucked between my shoulder and ear. I ask questions about it’s history and she starts to explain:

“Handpainted china was quite the thing back then, there were girls driving all the way to Amarillo to take lessons,” she tells me, “but I took lessons from a lady in Lubbock.”  I nod.

“Wasn’t your kiln out in the shed in the yard?” I squint my eyes, picturing her yard.

“Oh no, I had my own kiln in the utility room by the washer and dryer. I fired my own china for thirty minutes with the lid off them two hours with the lid on,” I write notes, “But it takes a long time to fire china. I had to fire it three times. You have to design, fire the piece, then finish it. It was so much fun to do. A lot of work, but I always wanted to paint china.” she tells me in her west Texas accent.

“So it was just you? Or did Betty paint with you?” I ask. Betty is her best friend since she was five. They’ve literally known each other forever.

“Aw well, Betty tried – but she was never any good at it,” and we both giggle at that. “Now, I had a friend, Florence Lawrence was her name, now she was a real artist. But that was 100 years ago,” she tells me. And I don’t suppress a laugh.

“What did Buckshot think about all this?” I raise an eyebrow.

“Aw, Buckshot never paid any attention to what I was doing,” I picture her dismissing my questions with a wave of my hand, “but he liked what I made,” and her point made with an invisible nod of her head.

“Now Celeste, if you always have something to do, you always have something to look forward to,” she tells me. “Word got around that I was painting china, and I ended up giving lessons to two sisters in Lubbock,” she tells me. The student becomes the teacher.    

So next time I have some girlfriends over for tea – I think I’ll bust out the china with the roses and tiny signature painted on the saucers, and think of my Grandma and call her later. As she likes to say, I think she’d “get a kick out of it.”

Hand Painted China

About Celeste Bennekers

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