What is a tea towel and what makes it so different from a regular dish towel?
In 18th century England, a tea towel was a very special drying cloth specifically used by the mistress of the house to dry and polish fine china teaware. Over time, in America, the tea towel has been demoted to fall in the ranks with any old dish towel, being used to dry any plate or utensil, or simply to wipe up a spill in the kitchen. But Marco Island resident Sharon McLaughlin is changing all of that. With the help and creativity of well-known artist Thomas Vieth of France, S McLaughlin Unique Gifts, a division of LilyO’s, is not only restoring the grand status of the tea towel, but raising it to an even higher distinction.
Sharon McLaughlin worked in sales for the Georgia Pacific corporation for 22 years. After that, this fitness and exercise enthusiast enjoyed 10 years of retirement playing golf, riding her bike and taking time for herself. But with her energetic zest for living and natural aptitude for sales and marketing, she knew she wanted to do something unique and productive once again.
Artist Thomas Vieth hails from Davenport, Iowa, the same area where Sharon once lived. He graduated from Dartmouth College cum laude in 1980 and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Boston University in 1987. Now living in France, with a professional career that has spanned over 30 years, his work is exhibited in the United States, France and England.
Sharon McLaughlin was enamored when Vieth’s work became available on beautiful tea towels. This new media for his art began with images of the wine regions of France, depicting Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne and Chardonnay. Vieth’s wife, Susan, knowing that McLaughlin was an avid traveler, contacted her for ideas of cities in America that could be featured on the tea towels. McLaughlin’s first idea was for Napa, California. A beautiful tea towel was created and marketed at the Napa General store, a well-known restaurant and artisan shop. That successful venture led to a collaboration between Vieth and McLaughlin, and the creation of many more tea towels that capture the elements of interests of many cities and towns across the United States.
Blessed with the beauty of paradise, it was only natural that tea towels would be created with the images of Marco Island and Naples. At present, there are three towels of Marco Island, capturing the beach (with a definite emphasis on its crescent shape), the Esplanade and the JW Marriott. There are also several versions of the Naples tea towel featuring scenes from the Naples Pier, 5th Avenue, 3rd Street, and Old Naples. The images are whimsical, vibrant and colorful, capturing the unique personalities of these communities.
Other places that spring to life on these delightful tea towels are Palm Beach, Boca Grande, Kennebunkport, Asheville, Georgetown, Winona Lake, Quad Cities, Branson; and even Dartmouth College. The images are charming, playfully quaint and fanciful, stirring the imagination with happy thoughts and memories of each location.
Each design is uniquely created through the combined efforts of Vieth and McLaughlin. It is a six-month process from start to finish. She sends him a photo. He sends her a sketch. They work together to create the finished image, which is then silk screened on 100% washable, non-fade, non-shrink cotton fabric. With those qualities of the fabric, you can feel comfortable using the towels for their intended purpose of clean-up, but once you see the beauty of these fine pieces of art, you may be more inclined to have them framed for decorative display in your home. S McLaughlin Unique Gifts is happy to handle that framing request for you.
Sharon McLaughlin, in her humble and gracious manner, says, “I want the credit for these beautiful towels to go to the artist, Thomas Vieth. He is the one who creates them.” But it is McLaughlin’s input, insight and influence that have brought these treasures to us here in Marco Island and Naples.
The towels are on display and can be purchased at Mango’s Dockside Store, Sandpiper, Marco Island Florist, and the Marco Island Historical Museum gift shop. They can also be seen and purchased at www.lilyos.com and the Facebook page of S McLaughlin Unique Gifts. Sharon McLaughlin may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 309-269-7439.