Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

parker basket thumb
Princeton, MAINE USA

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Flowers of the Knife

Paying homage to the sculptor/florists in kitchens everywhere.


Photo: via Kitchen Capers

In nature, flowers bloom before a plant bears fruit. But in culture, things aren’t so orderly. A bored sous chef with a love of flowers may just go hooty-wild. The organic clock starts spinning in reverse, and fruits crinkle back into shapely flowers.

imageEternal thanks to Cyndy Clark for sending us this unbelievable gallery of watermelon carving, featuring a downhill skier, dragon, Russian dolls, and portrait of Vincent Van Gogh.

Less daffy and most beautiful are the carved flowers, pink leaves tinged with the white of melon rind. I tried to extract more information from the blogger about who made these beauties, and where. I’m guessing they came from China via the Singapore weblog but am by no means certain.

The revelation of them inspired a hunt for other floral fruit and vegetables.


Edible Centerpieces

Photo: Josie Liming, for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Here’s a short how-to link, with directions for carving your own flowers, and an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on making an edible centerpiece.  This site has instructions for marshmallow gardenias, for a troop of vava-voom girl scouts or aging jazz singers, we presume. And this one gives instructions for a leek daisy, carrot tulips, and cabbage anthurium.

If you find better photos or information on the web, please send it along. Our search turned up only these attempts from the Donna Reed House of Bored Housewifery. Fun to make, I guess, but pretty awful to behold.

image...nothing so gorgeous or crazy as the batch Cyndy sent. Somewhere out there is a fruit carver who can see a bouquet of chrysanthemums in a watermelon, and the Taj Mahal. Kitchen artist, please step forward and identify yourself! The contemporary art world, short on humor and beauty, needs you.

Posted by Julie on 05/31 at 09:17 AM
Art & MediaCookingPermalink

Monday, May 30, 2005

With Wreaths

Why do circular flower arrangements mean “in memoriam”?

Memorial Day and Halloween are the only two dates on the calendar when U.S. citizens admit to death.  The other 363 days a year, we’re getting ahead, we’re working out with weights. We’re just fine!

imageKeven Outman

at the grave of

Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie

St. Louis, MO

Photo: Associated Press

Today’s solemn occasion was first observed 137 years ago, when an Illinois Union general sent an order to Civil War veterans. John A. Logan wrote:

“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

In many places throughout the U.S., Memorial Day will be publicly observed with the laying of wreaths; aboard the U.S.S. San Diego; at Hollywood Cemetery, near Richmond, Virginia, “honoring 76 former John Marshall High School cadets killed in the service of their country”; at the Intrepid Museum in New York. In Newport, Oregon, a fleet of boats will take memorial wreaths out into Depoe Bay, a custom six decades old.

And of course at Arlington National Cemetery,  President George Bush laid a wreath this morning at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Why all the circular arrangements? This story about the history of Memorial Day notes: “The fact that the (Civil) war ended during the flowering of springtime had much to do with the form the holiday eventually took. Some historians, including the one-time Chicago newspaper editor Lloyd Lewis, have also seen the day’s roots in the North’s elaborate grieving after the April 14, 1865, assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.”

In other words, this holiday for remembrance of the war dead was born in a flowering season, and in a floral era, when public expression took form in roses and sweet peas rather than opinion polls and souvenir t-shirts. That explains how flowers became part of Memorial Day, but why have they—floral wreaths in particular—endured, an observance even in our decidedly non-floral times?

image Pres. George Bush

Arlington National Cemetery

May 30, 2005

Photo: Mannie Garcia, for Reuters

According to Nora T. Hunter’s essay in The Centennial History of the American Florist, the wreath symbolized eternal life, eternal love, and “victory over death.” Before flat sprays came into fashion, in the latter part of the 19th century, “the wreath was the most requested sympathy design.”

I see wreaths used today, in the U.S. anyway, as emblems of collective sentiment, something different from personal emotion. As sympathy arrangements, they usually come not from the bank president but from the bank, not from John Wilkes Booth, but the Booth Family.

Likewise, when Bush lays the wreath at Arlington, he does so not as George Bush grieving a fallen soldier, but as the President of the United States honoring all of the nation’s war dead. Perhaps wreaths used to convey faith in everlasting life. Now, it seems to me, they symbolize community itself, whether of the living “posts and comrades” who present them or “the Unknowns” who receive them.

Wreaths acknowledge what Karl Marx called our “species being.” 

Posted by Julie on 05/30 at 01:25 PM
Culture & SocietySecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Flores de Mayo

When the rains come to the Philippine Islands, out come “las reynas,” beauty queens who balance red lipstick and piety.


Stacy Hillen, Reyna Flores of Austin, TX

As May, the month of Mary in the Roman Catholic faith, nears a close, the Philippines celebrates its bounty—human, floral, cultural, religious. The rainy season begins and the landscape bursts forth with tropical flowers. Devotions to the Blessed Virgin abound. And humanly, “the sap is rising.” It’s prime time for love.

Combining all these elements, Flores de Mayo is the Filipino spring festival.  John Reyes writes that after the Vatican “proclaimed the dogma of Immaculate Conception in 1854, the devotion to Mary known as Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May) blossomed…in the province of Bulacan and spread like wildfire in the southern Luzon provinces of Laguna, Batangas, and Pampanga.”

In many parts of the Philippines, this season is celebrated with recitations of the rosary each afternoon. In southern Luzon it’s known as “Alay kay Maria (offering to Mary),” people bringing garlands, bouquets and long, long, long hymns to the church.

imageOfelia Templo

with a statue of Mary

Texas State Capitol

Photo: Bill Bishop

The holy month culminates in what’s known as Santacruzan, a ritual that, at least in part, memorializes Santa Elena and her discovery, while journeying in Jerusalem, of “The True Cross.” Santa Elena convinced her son Constantine to convert to Christianity and, Constantine being Emperor of Rome, others found themselves converting too.

Here’s where the lipstick comes in. “The townfolk choose pretty young ladies to represent the various characters of the commemoration: the ‘Accolades of Our Lady.’ Each one is dressed in an exquisite, colorful gown, looking as regal as the Reina (Queen) she portrays. Reina Fe (Faith), Reina Esperanza (Hope), Reina Caridad (Charity), Reina Mora (Muslim), Reina Banderada (Flag), and Reina Justicia (Justice) walk with their consorts under hand-carried bamboo arches decked with color-themed native flowers.” Dressed in white, the girl chosen “Reyna Elena” is the procession’s climactic queen.

imageAlvina Roche, Reyna Elena

Photo: Bill Bishop

In Austin, Texas, yesterday, two Filipino-American organizations brought the festivity and glamour of the Santacruzan to the Texas State Capitol. Participants came from as far away as Houston, Killeen, and San Antonio, to enjoy the “showcase of Filipino culture” and honor longtime activist Evelyn Garcia. Bearing the flag of the Philippines in front, the procession walked up to the steps of the capitol singing. Ofelia Templo bore a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and the gorgeous teenage queens followed, each beneath a portable floral archway: Reyna Caridad in red, the Queen of Sheba and her princesses in gold…. Each representing a Bible story or spiritual virtue, the queens had all maxed out with make-up, costume jewelry, and artificial flowers. Not one hair shirt or Puritan shoe buckle to be found. In a word, “heavenly.” 

Alvina Roche was this year’s Reyna Elena, the picture of pious self-confidence with a large crucifix and pink silk flowers across her arm.

Posted by Julie on 05/29 at 11:44 AM
Religious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Saturday, May 28, 2005

The Sudden Gardens of Tashkent

Can urban flower plantings be acts of political repression?

imageTashkent placard

with the city emblem

Photo: Galen Frysinger

The nation of Uzbekistan is in upheaval, a polite way to say that people there are being killed for what they think.

Two weeks ago in Andijan, a group of demonstrators were attacked by soldiers. “Uzbek authorities claim 169 people died on May 13, most of them ‘Islamic extremists’. But activists like Muzaffarmirzo Ishakov, head of the Human Rights Society in Andijan region, say the real figure is closer to 700, overwhelmingly civilians.”

This recent account from the Institute of War and Peace Reporting describes the violence there, and the mourning. An IWPR reporter, working under a pseudonym, writes, “Some of those I interviewed said their loved ones had been shot in the back of the head, including a father of three who died when he went out to buy bread. His body was found by his father in a flower garden at the side of the road.”

While the U.S. and other nations have called for an investigation, Uzbek president Islam Karimov has dismissed these demands, claiming national sovereignty.

One especially odd story emerged from the Central Asian nation this week. Agence France Presse reported that the streets of the capital, Tashkent, are being torn up, “with gardeners…watering flower beds where only a day before there had been busy asphalt-paved road.”

The state-controlled media calls these works of “beautification,” but on the disappearing streets of Tashkent, people think differently. They say “the changes are to block easy access to the city center and thereby thwart the kind of mass rallies witnessed in the past two years in Tbilisi, Kiev and Bishkek - capitals of other ex-Soviet republics that saw protests sweep out veteran regimes.”

This intriguing article points out that after Ukraine’s “orange revolution” last year, “the main wide alley in Mustakillik (Independence) Square, where Independence Day celebrations are held, disappeared, replaced by narrow pavements surrounded by trees.” 

And when citizen protests turned the leader of Kyrgyzstan out of office in March, “sections of two key roads - Sharof Rashidov Street that leads to Mustakillik Square and Buyuk Turon Street that crossed so called ‘president’s road’ - also gave way to gardens.”

In Tashkent, authorities have already banned motorcycles. The move is clearly on to obstruct people-power by clogging up public space, otherwise known as “divide and conquer.”

The sudden gardens of Tashkent are reminders that flowers are rarely innocuous or “mere decoration.” As soon as the trowels come out, we know that human purpose has stirred, whether for liberation or repression.

Posted by Julie on 05/28 at 11:02 AM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapePoliticsPermalink
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