- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

In one of her last ceremonial duties as first lady of the United States, Laura Bush yesterday unveiled the George W. Bush State China Service, Magnolia Residence China Service and two new rugs at a private press viewing in the Family Dining Room of the White House.

“I hope that the next family will be happy to have these two sets, to be able to entertain their heads of state that come in, as well as for their closest family and friends,” Mrs. Bush said, referring to the Obama family, who will move into the White House on Jan. 20.

The 320 14-piece George W. Bush china service was purchased by the private, nonprofit White House Historical Association Acquisition Trust for $492,798. It was designed exclusively by Lenox Group Inc. and made in North Carolina. Inspired by Madison-era dishes favored by Mrs. Bush, the porcelain place setting has a green basket-weave border. The dessert plates have a laurel-wreath motif copied from President Madison and first lady Dolley Madison’s Parisian dinner plates from 1800.

The Magnolia Residence China Service was designed by Anna Weatherley and also made in America, but it was hand-painted in Ms. Weatherley’s native Hungary. The design elements on the 75 seven-piece place settings of the Magnolia service include the leaves and blossoms of the Southern magnolia trees next to the South Portico of the White House, and butterflies and insects inspired by species indigenous to the White House grounds. The seven-piece set was bought by the George W. Bush Redecoration Fund for $74,000.

Mrs. Bush says the china designs have been in the works for years, and the services were delivered just recently, so she did not have a chance to show them to her successor, Michelle Obama. “I think she’ll have fun discovering all those,” Mrs. Bush said.

It is customary for presidents and first ladies to design their own china and leave it as a memory of their time in the world’s most famous home, although some presidents, including President George H.W. Bush and President Carter did not.

“What makes this collection so special is that it represents Mrs. Bush’s legacy,” says Amy Zantzinger, Mrs. Bush’s social secretary. “It’s very elegant and reflects the style of the period. It will become a house antiquity.” Mrs. Zantzinger cited as an example the china from Rutherford B. Hayes’s presidency, which was far more colorful and flamboyant than that of other presidential eras but “indicative of its time” in Gilded Age America.

Mrs. Bush said she and her husband are looking forward to returning to domestic life later this month but have many fond memories of eating off the china services of past administrations. Mrs. Bush explained that she and the president had private meals and entertained official guests using china services from the Madison, Clinton and Johnson presidencies.

Mrs. Bush told The Washington Times the service featuring Lady Bird Johnson’s favorite wildflowers is Mr. Bush’s favorite because Mrs. Johnson, like the Bushes, was a native of Texas.

Mrs. Bush also explained to members of the press that two new rugs were donated to the White House by the endowment trust of the White House Historical Association. One rug has been placed in the Family Dining Room, where the new china was displayed, and the other is in the Diplomatic Reception Room near the renowned portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

Both rugs were made last year in North Carolina and were designed in consultation with the White House curator to preserve the historical integrity of the rooms.

Mrs. Bush says she will spend her first night as an ex-first lady at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, with Mr. Bush and close friends. She expects her new home in Dallas to be completed by late January.

The Bushes will not be able to take the new china or rugs with them to their new digs, but Mrs. Bush says a copy of the china will be displayed in the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

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