- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

ATLANTA Of course her house is Victorian yellow and turreted and decorated with dainty crocheted doilies and fragile china cups.
It is impossible to imagine Marietta, Ga., artist and author Sandy Lynam Clough, 53, in a Danish modern or stark Shaker setting. She has made her name and her living on teapots and posies and old-fashioned lace. Colorful prints from her detailed watercolors and oils are for sale in furniture outlets, frame shops and Christian bookstores. Her blossoms and teacups have appeared on everything from sterling silver jewelry to needlepoint kits. In the past two years, more than 275 new products featuring her art went on the market.
But Mrs. Clough's work is more than just another pretty picture. The youthful grandmother crusades for revolution from the pouring side of a tea table. The message of her medium is the power of encouragement especially over warm cups of brewed tea.
"We live in a rough world," she says, sitting up straight in a black wicker chair covered in a bright floral print in the sunny "tea room" of the house she designed. "We can soften the edges of it by offering friendship and warmth and kindness to each other."
Despite her success, she has learned life is no tea party.
Beginning five years ago, three successive surgeries to prevent blindness have left her with distorted and double vision in one eye. A faithful Christian, she had been certain of a miracle that didn't come.
"I believe God heals people, but I wasn't healed," she said. "What am I going to do with that? He called me to be an artist. Why hasn't he moved heaven and earth to fix this?"
Distraught and discouraged, she picked up the Book of Psalms and began listing traits of God. Each day she would read until she saw a verse that told her how good God was. "He hears me when I call," she said. "He hasn't forgotten the prayers of the afflicted."
Gradually, she says, "a peace began to settle over me."
First, she determined she could deal with her affliction for a day. Then a week. Finally, she stopped being afraid.
Coming to terms with her condition, she had an epiphany. "All my life I had loved God for what I could get out of him. Now I wanted to learn to worship God."
She went back through the Psalms, writing down words of praise.
"What I ended up with was confidence that he loved me, and he had a plan. It was as if I had been in deep water where I feared I might drown. Now, it was like I walked on that deep water."
She went at her work with newfound confidence and a new voice.
The result was a series of "comfort books" that she wrote and illustrated, relying on the vision in her healthy eye. "They're very personal, yet universal," she says. "I'm writing from faith and experience, the times faith worked in the hard places."
She became interested in tea "because I wanted to paint the cups," she says. She had a particular cup in her artist's mind fragile, floral and slightly flawed. She finally found just the cup.
"Something that looks this delicate can still be strong, still be useful, and can even be beautiful," she says, holding it gently. "The older I get, the more I appreciate that we who have suffered some damage are still useful."
Last year she introduced "Sandy's Tea Society," a book about a group of fictional women who rotate hosting tea parties. One is an artist, one loves to read, one gardens, one dotes on anything to do with roses, one collects antiques, especially old teacups, and one loves the outdoors.
"It's everything that appeals to me as a woman divided into six people," she says.
She never shows the women's faces, hoping that other women will identify with them more closely.
Rather than give point-by-point directions for invitations, centerpieces and party favors, she writes about the parties thrown by the members of the tea society.
There is no excuse for not having tea, she asserts. "If you don't even have a kettle, put some water in a boiler, open some store-bought cookies and call a friend."
"Sandy's Tea Society" has grown into a national Web-linked network of Earl Grey and pekoe sippers who e-mail photos and ideas from their own get-togethers. Tea is just a vehicle for relationships. The sharing of scones and Darjeeling can be almost sacramental.
"The reason women love tea is that we have a nation full of women looking for a reason to sit down," Mrs. Clough says. "To sit down and talk with another woman, whether serious or silly, is refreshment you can't get anywhere else."

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