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Lettuceware leaves its creator in the green

The coffeepots sell for more than $500. The soup tureens fetch more than $1,000. No, they are not silver or gold. They're ceramic lettuce leaves.

It started as a hobby almost 30 years ago, but today ceramics is big business for Dodie Thayer Hawthorn of Jupiter.

A mother of five, Hawthorn started ceramics in the early 1960s to supplement her then-husband's schoolteacher salary. She taught wives how to work with ceramics while their husbands played golf. And because she had a kiln, she started firing things for her friends in her garage.

"The next thing I knew I was in business," she said.

For Hawthorn, it's big business.

It all started with a cabbage. Hawthorn worked at a gourmet shop near Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. The owners wanted her to copy some expensive antique Italianware. She proposed making cabbage dishes instead.

Hawthorn used real leaves to make her molds, and the cabbage leaf gave an especially clear definition. Over the years, the cabbage evolved into lettuce, and today Hawthorn is well-known in home furnishings circles as the creator of Lettuceware, the whimsical ceramic dinnerware that sells for big bucks in Palm Beach.

Her largest piece is a soup tureen that takes 12 to 14 hours to make. In the early '60s, she got $75 for it. "Now I get $575," she said. It retails for about $1,150.

Jackie Onassis owns some of her Lettuceware. She bought an after-dinner coffee set during one of her visits to Palm Beach with President Kennedy.

Other celebrity owners include Walter Matthau (his home, complete with the Lettuceware,

was featured in a 1970 issue of House & Garden), the late Duchess of Windsor, Marshall Field, the owners of the Winn Dixie supermarket chain and Frank and Barbara Sinatra ("She ordered three dozen of everything.")

And Lettuceware has often graced the covers of national magazines, including Gourmet, House & Garden, House Beautiful and Southern Accents, although Hawthorn doubts the publicity has helped sales. "Very seldom do they even give me credit," she said.

Hawthorn used real leaves to make her molds, and the cabbage leaf gave an especially clear definition. Over the years, the cabbage evolved into lettuce.

Hawthorn used to make other types of ceramics but has no time for that now _ making Lettuceware, sold exclusively at Isabel's Et Cetera in Palm Beach, is a full-time job.

"I work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but Friday I pack things up, take them to Palm Beach and have lunch with my cousin," Hawthorn said.

"Every once in a while I take them surprises," she said of the shop owners. But the one-of-a-kind description usually doesn't last long. All Lettuceware pieces are so popular that the shop owner often requests that Hawthorn make more.

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