INDIANAPOLIS – A unique china pattern for each administration at the White House is a tradition dating back all the way to 1817. In Indiana, it’s been going since the 1970s.
However, Indiana First Lady Janet Holcomb is the first to contribute as an artist.
“I just kind of started sketching,” said First Lady Holcomb.
She has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in art. Holcomb said she knew right away she wanted to incorporate Indiana state symbols in the design.
“I quickly realized that it was very consistent with Walter Knabe’s style,” explained the first lady.
The Hoosier artist was flattered and agreed to collaborate on the project.
“It is really all things Indiana,” said Knabe. “We have the peony in it, there’s the tulip tree, there’s of course the cardinal.”
The china set also features a firefly. Indiana elementary school children lobbied legislators for years to make it the state insect. Governor Eric Holcomb made it official in 2018.
“I think it’s just terribly endearing,” said Knabe.
The collection also scripts lyrics to the song “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
“It kind of pulled the whole design together,” said First Lady Holcomb.
It took a year to finalize the print, and then another year to raise private money for the fine china. It was thousands of dollars, but none of it was tax money.
“All of the improvements that we make or any purchases we make here at the residence is all privately funded,” the first lady explained.
“We often host dinner parties for CEO’s if we are looking to recruit companies to Indiana to create jobs, ambassadors, dignitaries from other states or nations,” she added.
However, the dinnerware didn’t arrive until the pandemic started, so they haven’t fully been able to show it off yet.
“We really look forward to hosting our first formal dinner and utilizing the china,” said First Lady Holcomb.
In the meantime, they may be able to add a proper pup-cup to the collection.
“At some point, we really want to do a dog bowl,” said the first lady. “This little fella Henry has become quite a celebrity. Just the other day someone stopped me in a grocery store and asked me if I was Henry’s mom.”
Knabe said he’s already started working on this for the first dog of Indiana.
“I really feel like we just knocked it out of the park,” said Knabe. “I did not see the china in the cabinet until a few minutes ago, and I kind of got a little bit of a chill. It was really neat to be part of this.”
First Lady Holcomb is proud of the results as well.
“I’m so thrilled with the way it turned out,” she said.
Many of the sets have the same blue and gold, so you can mix in both at the same time. Holcomb had some of the Bayh’s Administration laying out with her set when we visited.
“We were saddened at the loss and death of Susan Bayh recently,” said Holcomb as she showed us the classic design and state seal featured on the plate.
She hopes future first ladies use her set and become inspired to incorporate their own state symbolism.
“It’s a long time tradition,” said First Lady Holcomb.
One she hopes never stops.
“I think that it’s a way to incorporate beautiful objects into your everyday life.”