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Napa artist sends art to White House, and the president actually wrote him back
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Napa artist sends art to White House, and the president actually wrote him back

From the Catch up on the Napa Valley news you may have missed this week series
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It’s not every day you get a letter from the White House. Let alone a thank you note from the President of the United States. 

But that’s exactly what Napan Tom Collins received in his mailbox a few weeks ago.

Earlier this year, Collins, a well-regarded ceramics artist, made four commemorative plates for new President Joe Biden, his wife Jill, new Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug.

Each was hand-lettered by fellow artist Nick Cann with the recipient’s name in the middle.

Napa ceramics artist Tom Collins made and sent four original porcelain plates to Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and their spouses. He got a thank you letter from the White House in return. Take a look.

A couple of months later, the White House actually wrote back.

“Thank you for sending such a thoughtful gift,” said the letter signed by Joe Biden. “I greatly appreciate the warm welcome you and so many of our fellow Americans have extended to me and my family.”

Collins said he was pleasantly surprised to receive the letter, on official White House stationery, from the new president.

“I thought, 'that’s nice,'” said the artist. “'He’s finally answered me,'” he said with a laugh.

Collins said he felt compelled to send the president and vice president some of his artwork to celebrate their win.

“Congratulations,” Collins wrote in letters to both Biden and Harris. “Our 15-year-old-son kept us informed… as the election results came in.” Collins is referring to Thomas, his teenage son.

“We were so interested in the election,” Collins explained on Tuesday during a tour of his Napa ceramic studio.

In the days after Nov. 4, “You just didn’t know,” which way the results would go, both nationally and statewide. But teenage Thomas was avidly following the daily changes.

Commemorating the achievement in his own way, “We made these plates for you… to honor the great work that you have done and will do,” wrote his father.

Collins’ dishes are created using a “ram press” which makes multiple reproductions of a plate he originally made out of clay.

The porcelain plates are then hand-lettered by Cann.

Collins usually signs the back of each plate with his name, an N for “Napa” and adds a small infinity sign as his maker’s mark.

“If they don’t break it, it will probably last that long,” he said with a laugh.

He’s been a ceramics artist for more than 50 years, but this is only the second time he’s sent a piece of his art to a president or vice president.

Before the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris plates, he sent a large platter with a quote on the back to then-President Jimmy Carter.

He got a letter from the Carter White House as well, recalled Thomas. The letter said the White House would keep his gift for the future Jimmy Carter presidential museum, he recalled.

“I just think it’s nice to support people,” who achieve such significant accomplishments, said Collins.

The ceramist said he had intended to make plates for Barack and Michelle Obama, but he was busy being “Mr. Mom” to his son during the years of the Obama presidency. Collins’ wife is former Napa County executive officer Nancy Watt. She's currently the CEO of the Gasser Foundation.

Locals can see other examples of Collins’ ceramic plates at Shackford’s Kitchen Store in Napa. He created a plate stamped with the words “Square Meals” on it. He donates a portion of the money he earns from those sales to nonprofits like Feeding It Forward and to the Napa Food Bank, said Collins.

But the artist also gives away many of his plates, like to his letter carrier, people he knows from grocery shopping, friends and others. He also makes cups that he hands out for free as well.

"I guess it’s just a way of spreading a bit of love." 

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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or jhuffman@napanews.com

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Business Editor

Jennifer Huffman is the business editor and a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register. I cover a wide variety of topics for the newspaper. I've been with the Register since 2005.

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