Lucky Penny Parlor & the World's Smallest Postal Service x Lea Redmond
At times of darkness, what do we reach for? What do we try to bring into our lives? Our go-to’s are probably around activism, around self-care, around community. But wonder? Curiosity? Sometimes we put them in the ‘superficial’ bucket, the one reserved for whimsy, for frivolity, for later. We leave them alone. They are coping strategies LITE.
Spending a morning with artist Lea Redmond at Lucky Penny Parlor in Oakland you realize you’ve got it all wrong. Finding wonder is deeply purposeful. To abandon it now is to abandon something of our humanity, of our possibility.
It’s ok to not feel entirely comfortable when you come into Lucky Penny Parlor. What is it really? How do you engage? Can you touch this? You’ll have these questions and others. And Lea is fine with this – she’ll lead you through it, spend time with you so you can reach for understanding, bring your experiences into hers. There’s a beauty in questioning, a kindness in the suggestion of clarity. Lea did this with my daughter and I – as we touched things on display, grasped for information as we tried to orientate ourselves, she provided the scaffolding for a connection. Over mint tea, in carefully chosen cups, we found our way in.
There’s a therapy of sorts to be found here in Tea Cup Consultations in which Lea choses a cup from her extensive collection and you bring something from your own life to discuss over tea, and the staged Tabletop Shows, dioramas that encapsulate narratives and even the universe (upcoming shows are about hummingbirds and a choose-your-own-adventure through the solar system). These intimate services provide the framework for poetic conversations, exploratory meanderings and immersive play.
Lea is interested in the material that’s in front of us of another kind though, of what’s available to us in the ordinary and every day that has a tangible quality, the concrete items that are all around us, all the time, and that we no longer see. Look through the hundreds of tiny drawers that make up Lea’s Wonder Cabinet and which contain the detritus of our everyday lives – tags, bottle tops, flea market finds, and household artifacts. Here you are taken right back into the space of seeing again, of living in the pause. Meaning here sneaks up on you, revealed by delight and humor and amusement.
Maria Popova, a similar collector of interesting (in ideas rather than things) encourages: “Be curious. Be constantly, consistently, indiscriminately curious.” We had that quote in mind talking to Lea and wandering through Lucky Penny Parlor which houses her personal collection of curios and from which she curates her own singular world.
Two doors up from Lucky Penny Parlor, is a work in process, the very soon to be first outpost of Lea’s World’s Smallest Post Service and the latest iteration of her 10-year tiny mail project. A space of serendipity – Lea happened upon the perfect-sized vintage post office front to pull it all together. From here Lea and her team will send out tiny – as in seriously tiny – packages into the world.
It’s a truly magical space that captures our love of the absurd and the cute, as well as our need for connection, our longing for the analogue. With this project, Lea is returning to something long lost – our wonder at receiving things in the mail that are not in the form of a bill or bulk entreaties. Can you imagine finding one of these tiny letters or parcels in your mailbox. Can you imagine that moment being in your day? Aren’t you smiling now just thinking about it? Or maybe you are thinking about who you can send something to?
For Lea the World’s Smallest Post Service is all about bringing not just ‘tiny mail magic’ but ‘more wonder into the world’: “We propose to create an enchanting, museum-like, open-to-the-public brick & mortar home for our World's Smallest Post Service. We want to make a place, a magical coordinate on the globe where people can count on wonder and kindness.”
Lea has constructed her world too so that we can reach for it wherever we are – with products by her design company Leafcutter Designs. Like Lively Matter a deck of prompt cards to encourage creativity and play through ‘a grand adventure of the ordinary’, and that provide a much-needed break from our screens, and the Letters to My Series, which we’ve handed to grandparents and friends, to capture the stories they may want to tell but have had no format to do so. Most recently, Lea created Everyday Offerings, which holds a way forward in our daily lives.
From the outside, all this, these storefronts and projects, Lea’s vision for crafting this magical way of living, look fun but it takes hard work, a serious and keen drive, to sustain this creative space. It looks easy because whimsy is a kind of sleight of hand, a magic of sorts that leads you out of the mundane and into belief. You don’t see the trickery (read commitment and focus) that makes it happen, that makes non-obviously functional spaces, exist in the world.
Yes, we need independent cafes and bakeries, coworking spaces and stores. But we need this other non-definable space on our high streets – of inspiration, wonder and play. Of something else. That’s a need that is not being fulfilled in our grown-up lives. We’re losing our joy, and we need to badly capture it again. We’re lucky in that we get to visit this world of Lea’s creation. For a short while. To walk within this vision of what light existing in darkness can actual be, the physical form it can take and its importance in sustaining our lives. There’s nothing superficial in that.