While we spend enormous effort and focus on our tea blends, the Whidbey Tea packaging is definitely a major draw for all our customers. Each blend has a unique totem animal representing the “soul” of that tea. These animals have become so iconic, that many customers refer to their favorite blends not by their name, but by their animal. We have had a lot of questions about these animals and the Native American design. We wanted to share how they came to be and about our dear family friend and Native American artist, Marvin E Oliver.
It was one of those stunning Puget Sound summer evenings at our family home on Whidbey Island. My parents and I were sitting outside overlooking the water watching boats go by, listening to seals calling from the buoy below, and watching the sun set behind the Cascade mountains. We were drinking wine discussing how we wanted to create a name or design for each individual blend. How should they look lined up on a shelf? How could we create a cohesive “family” look, while giving each blend it’s own identity? What would draw a customer to pick one up? Hanging on a wooden beam of the deck above where we were sitting, is a very cool iron sculpted Native American frog. As we brainstormed, I happened to look up and think “wouldn’t it be cool to do a totem animal representing each blend? Have each blend’s ‘personality’ captured by the animal on the packaging?”
My parents loved it and my dad had the brilliant idea of “Oh my gosh! We have to get Marvin to do it!” Marvin E. Oliver was an incredibly accomplished artist and sculptor in the Northwest Coast noted for his Native American Contemporary Fine Art. My parents met Marvin through the Seattle / University of Washington community and had been very close friends for years. He had already created some rug designs, mosaics, and the gate at their Whidbey home. So, my mom spoke with Marvin the next day, explaining the concept and with great excitement he started sketching for us.
With his background in Native American culture and art, we knew we could accurately portray the animals, their spirit, and pair them with blends that represented the same spirit. The first sketch we did was the owl for our Chamomile Mint tea. An incredible amount of detail goes into each sketch as you would imagine. Down to which direction the eyes look, the head is turned, the emotion of the face. Marvin would take a first draft of each animal, and together we would tweak it accordingly for a product package. Once Marvin had the final version, our graphic designer would input the color scheme. My favorite drawing Marvin did for us is the butterfly on our Jasmine Green blend. The amount of detail in that piece is just stunning.
Very, very sadly, Marvin passed away in August of 2019. He was an exceptional friend to our family and helped us establish our visual style for Whidbey Tea. We miss him dearly. We are fortunate to have many sketches he drew for us before he passed that we haven’t attributed to a blend.
Much to our surprise and delight, the Whidbey artwork has truly become the trademark of our brand. It always makes us smile when our buyers refer to a blend by the animal, not the tea itself. Selecting which sketch to pair with each blend is one of our favorite pieces in the process! We will forever be thankful to Marvin for bringing this idea to life!