Looking for a unique gift this holiday season?
Leta Shubin of Bala Cynwyd might have just the thing.
Shubin has created the Mad Platter, a playful take on the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll's
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
Shubin combines vintage china, Depression glass, odd mugs and candlesticks - even martini glasses - into a many-tiered serving tray that looks like sculpture.
The platter must not tip over, must appeal to the viewer's imagination, and satisfy her aesthetic sense, the artist said.
Has Shubin, 57, an empty-nester and career social worker, gone down the rabbit hole with her eclectic creations? Well, maybe not.
Last summer, while on the beach in Margate, the divorced mother of Jay and Aurora, 18, wondered how to fill the time since both were leaving for college.
Shubin could, she mused, go shopping "with money she didn't have," indulge in hot fudge sundaes, or do something different. She opted for that last idea.
"It's time for me to add another chapter to my life," Shubin said. "I'm never giving up social work, but this is the creative part of me."
Shubin is a vintage-china collector, and it dawned on her that she could build on her love of the plates, bowls and teapots that she found at estate sales and thrift shops.
She began trying different arrangements of the pieces. Late into the night, she paced near the dining room table, which was her workbench.
"These are unique puzzle pieces," Shubin said. "I move them around till I feel comfortable with the configuration."
Recently, she offered for sale six of her creations at an antique sale at the Jersey Shore. Setup was at 9 a.m. By noon, they were sold.
Buyers said they found her art works "unique and whimsical." Shubin was thrilled.
"The work I do as a social worker, people don't have to thank me. It's rewarding," Shubin said. "This is a different kind of reward. You've done something pretty."
She has had mixed results since seeking other outlets for her creations. Jan Hartman, owner of Flag Lady Gifts in Wayne, said she thought the platters were "very, very cool" when she saw them.
"I liked her work, but I did suggest she try a boutique type of store, rather than my gift shop," Hartman said.
Shubin said she might sell the platters through the Internet. Prices start at $50, although time and the cost of materials might drive the cost higher.
It takes about 10 days to complete one platter because the epoxy that holds the pieces together must have time to dry, Shubin said.
She groups the components around a color or theme, such as a Victorian tea party, or an arrangement of blue china and glass. She has a valentine platter, and several Christmas platters.
One typical Mad Platter has a piece of Depression glass for the base. A Chinese mug is the second element. It's topped by a salad plate. A martini glass sits on the salad plate. On top is a teacup saucer.
Another Mad Platter uses eggcups from England as connectors between plates. She'll custom-build a platter around any family heirloom.
"If people still had Grandma Rose's cup, or Aunt Bessie's bowl, I could use these to build something around it, that would make a piece very personal," Shubin said.
The platters can be used to serve high tea, appetizers, or dessert fruit, cheeses or sweets, Shubin said, but they can't be submerged or run through the dishwasher.
Shubin isn't the first to coin the term Mad Platters. It has been used by a pottery studio in Greensboro, N.C.; an eatery in Nashville; a record store in Riverside, Calif.; a lunch spot in Mashpee, Mass.; and a line of cat toys.
Shubin grew up in the Wynnefield section of Philadelphia in the 1950s. Her family ran a furniture store on South Street.
"That's where I caught the bug for furniture and beauty," Shubin said. "We always looked for bargains on South Street before it was cool."
Shubin spent summers at a rented house in Ventnor, where she scoured a church bazaar for costume jewelry.
"It was thrilling. That's how I feel about this; it's a find," Shubin said of the pieces she parlays into art. "You put it together, and it becomes a Mad Platter."