Mary McLaughlin Makes Keepsake Pieces for the White House … And May Have a Solution to World Hunger

You’d think Mary McLaughlin studied art for years at the best schools before creating hand-painted official gifts of enamels, chinaware, jewelry and gift boxes for the likes of last 2 U.S. presidents and their wives, the State Department, governors, mayors, senators, Wellesley College and the Lyric Opera.

But you’d be wrong.

McLaughlin is largely self-taught in drawing and painting, and she only started creating hand-painted keepsake pieces (which are rarely produced domestically these days) as a second career when she moved to the North Shore to raise her 2 daughters. Before that she was a professional geologist, consulting with oil-drilling companies in Texas.

“I had to reinvent myself,” she says.

And reinvent herself she did.

After 15 years in the business, McLaughlin’s Northfield-based company, McLaughlin Glazeware, produces more than 500 boxes per year—boxes that will endure for hundreds of years because of the enamel with which they’re made.

The company produces its own paints and fires its creations in its own kilns at 1,400 degrees, so the pigment absorbs. This year some of McLaughlin’s creations will be sold in the Brooks Brothers catalog and in its New York stores.

As if her boxes weren’t impact enough, McLaughlin also started her own nonprofit in 2008, Trees That Feed, to provide breadfruit trees to underdeveloped, tropical countries. You can basically grow a loaf of bread on these trees to feed the hungry, McLaughlin explains, which she knew from growing up on a farm in Jamaica and serving on the board of the National Botanic Gardens.

And, of course, more trees is good for the environment. For the moment, she’s financing the project herself and has sent trees to several countries for testing. If the beta test is successful, she’ll start a fundraising campaign.

At 59, McLaughlin says she’s “still trying to soar” and insists that she’s not amazing.

“I’m just the typical average person who just does something she loves to do,” she says.