One of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever received was from my best friend, Amy.
For my birthday last year, she sent me a little book filled with sealed envelopes. “Letters to my Friend,” the cover read. Inside was prompted letters that Amy had answered, detailing her thoughtful memories, experiences, and reflections on our friendship. I cried reading every single one. On paper, she had beautifully crafted thoughts and words that I will cherish always — a paper time capsule filled with loving words and meaningful memories.
Today, I bring you a one-of-a-kind Talking Shop post, featuring a woman I have been SO eager to talk to: Lea Redmond. Not only is Lea the creator of the beautiful “Letters to My Friend” book (there’s a whole “Letters to…” series and they are amazing), but she is a maker of the most unique, meaningful, and inspiring products. From the World’s Smallest Post Service to Leafcutter to the Lucky Penny Parlor, her creations offer thoughtful, hands-on, and whimsically wonderful experiences. I am forever waving a foam finger for Lea and her inspired work. Let’s meet her!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the 80s in a little Southern CA town called Seal Beach. Looking back, I see all the snorkeling and sailing my family did as an antidote to the concrete jungle and conservatism of Orange County. Honestly, I got out of there as soon as I could. I went to college all the way up in WA state! But I had a wonder-filled childhood, largely thanks to my parents. If it wasn’t sea urchins and garibaldi, it was pointillist paintings at LACMA. My folks would sometimes pull me out of school and we’d all play hooky at the art museum. On any random Saturday afternoon, you could find me rollerskating to buy jelly beans on Main Street, or rockin’ out to Cyndi Lauper while I did any number of craft projects, like Fimo beads. I was pretty hardcore about my crafting from an early age. Oh, and I got to dance in front of a Georgia O’Keeffe reproduction in 5th grade! (She was my childhood hero.)
How would you describe yourself in three words?
heart open wide
What is one transformative experience you’ve had in your life?
I went to boarding school for high school, which is a super weird thing to do, but — believe it or not — I opted in! I think I was just ready for something new and different. And the first year largely sucked. The girls were mean. The academics were grueling. But I slowly found my way. Maybe I would have found my way in the big public school back home too; it’s hard to say and I’ll never know. What I do know is that being in a tight-knit learning community surrounded by other nerds (including the brilliant, caring teachers who lived down the dormitory hall) was amazing for my soul. I learned to listen to my own voice there on that mesa of eucalyptus trees. And there was a ceramics barn just a hop, skip, and a jump from my bedroom. Dreamy!
How did you the idea for the World’s Smallest Post Service come about?
It was just a goofy little idea that popped into my head one day right after I woke up from a nap. I thought it was so ridiculous that I simply had to do it! But I’ve always been a letter writer and stationery collector. I’ve always delighted in scale play as well. So the notion of a tiny letter tickled my fancy in many ways at once. Back in 2008 when I started transcribing tiny letters for people, I had absolutely no intention of it becoming a business that sends 4,000 tiny letters a year! Who knew?!
What inspired your passion for writing and creating?
Creating came first. And early. My parents are aesthetically-attuned and my mom was a Montessori preschool teacher, so I was surrounded by art supplies of all sorts from a very early age. And my grandmother on my dad’s side collected beautiful everyday ceramic ware that I got to eat and drink out of whenever I visited her. Over time, Fimo beads, friendship bracelets, and puffy paint t-shirts slowly evolved into more complex creations like my clothes tag exchange, Paint Chip Poetry game, and a book about conceptual knitting. So that’s the easy answer, I guess. And I fell in love with reading and writing in college; I realized that there were some things I wanted to make that were better made with words. I also met my tea sensei during college. But the real answer is this: my passion for making is a direct response to the gorgeous, brief, strange time we’re each given here on this pale blue dot (as Carl Sagan says). It’s just so marvelous. And heartbreaking. I want to shout it from the mountaintops and whisper it on the sidewalks.
How do you seek to create meaningful experiences?
When I’m trying to design an experience that might reach others — open their eyes, stir their hearts, spark their imaginations — the best litmus test I have is whether I too feel these things as I’m creating the experience for them. Whether I’m designing a board game or journal, composing one of my “tabletop shows” for my tea room, or writing an essay, I go into it with many more questions than answers. The making process itself is a delightful journey full of surprises, and I should be as engaged while creating it as I hope my audience is upon experiencing it. As such, I toss myself into projects involving lots of mystery, wild questions, even complex confusions, so there’s something to get me thinking, feeling, moving. I need something rich to respond to. A recent example is this Creative Mornings SF talk that I gave, which ended up including a guided visualization and a little souvenir.
What do you fuel your creativity? How do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere. I think everything is interesting, or at least has the potential to be such. It’s all about how we attend to things, including our own thoughts, feelings, memories, etc. In one sense, I’m a radical materialist: I’ve got my eyes on the pennies on the sidewalk, the slowly ripening huckleberries on my favorite local trail, the hue of my lover’s eyes. I wasn’t raised with religion, so I ended up with my own personal spirituality of this is it! But I wish you could hear the tone of voice with which I type: this is it! It’s full of joy — and jellybeans, and jellyfish, and tree rings and leek blossoms and argyle socks. Isn’t it wonderful? So since everything is inspiring, the more important question for me might be: how do I filter it? How do I decide which dandelion seed to chase when they all look like so much fun? My notebook is always bursting with ideas. But as much as I love sitting with my notebook and scheming, I’ve also learned the importance of getting out into the woods (literally) and moving my body. Some of my all-time favorite thoughts are ambulatory thoughts — thoughts on the move. This is where my existential priorities shake themselves out and get into the proper arrangement. In my hiking books, I can see clearly which seed to chase next. I access a deeper part of me that just knows.
What’s next for you?
In terms of the long game? I’d like to write some young adult fiction someday. I have a few ideas, but a long way to go! The shorter game? I have a whimsical idea involving a pressed penny machine that I’d like to launch via Kickstarter this fall or winter. (Update: Kickstarter is live — back it here!) In the meantime, my new brick and mortar version of the World’s Smallest Post Service will be opening in Downtown Oakland, CA later this summer. Our tiny post office features an antique, early 1900s oak post office counter. And eventually, we’ll be doing some puppet shows about the history of mail in the counter windows! I’m also slowly chipping away at my manuscript; I’m writing a field guide to everyday wonder. It’s a serious labor of love, i.e. it’s taking forever.
The Fun Qs:
What song is the soundtrack to your life?
This year: “Get Up” by The Blow.
What three foods would you take to a desert island?
blueberries, Japanese satsuma sweet potatoes, very dark chocolate
What is the best book someone has recommended to you?
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
What’s the last thing you watched on YouTube?
The trailer for the new movie: “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.” I definitely wanna see it!
Brb, off to send some tiny snail mail. Visit Lea’s online site and shop here, and follow her on Insta @lea_redmond, @leafcutter, and @lucky_penny_parlor. Back her Lucky Penny Parlor Kickstarter here.