Human Flower Project
Friday, May 25, 2007
Floral Fireworks for a Russian Flag
Vienna’s best go all out to welcome Vladimir Putin.
Flowers seemed to explode above Russian President
Vladimir Putin (left) and Austrian President Heinz Fischer
at the Hofburg palace, Vienna, 5/23/07.
Photo: Dragan Tatic, for Reuters
What do you do when your biggest gasoline supplier comes to town? Polish the chandeliers and pull out the stops.
The Austrians welcomed Russian president Vladimir Putin this week, and from the looks of the floral arrangement prepared for Wednesday’s gala dinner at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, they aimed high. An immense floral display in the colors of Russia’s flag – white, blue and red – performed an act of diplomacy.
“Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom supplies most of Austria’s gas and seeks deeper access to distribution,” according to Reuters. But Austria has plans to build an alternate pipeline route, from the Caspian Sea “to southern Europe via Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece.” Since pipeline disputes can cause indigestion, the arrangement gave palace diners a six foot sigh of relief.
We’ve been looking for information about Austrian schools of floral design but thus far found very little. Several years ago, Leonard Koren, a graphic designer from the U.S., published a book called The Flower Shop (we’ll try to get our hands on this). It appears to be pseudo ethnography —examining the day to day affairs of one supremely tasteful florist in Vienna. Still, we’ve not found anything than can account for a piece like Wednesday’s “diplomat.” The arrangement takes marvelous advantage of an ambiguity in the Russian flag – which is the right blue? Russian flags, we learn, waffle “from Argentine blue to British blue.” Here, what appear to be delphiniums manage to please everyone, and add purple.
Bauergarten mit Sonnenblumen (1905-06)
Farm Garden with Sunflower
Vienna, Osterreichische Museum für Angewandte Kunst
Even more impressive, though, are the scale and form. This arrangement somehow becomes one flower, like a fireworks display. And all that white gives it a kind of claustrophopia-inducing radiance, shades of countryman Gustav Klimt.
Who knows how well negotiations on the pipelines, or other affairs of state, went this week in Austria? Not us, but we congratulate the powerhouse florists of Wien (Vienna). Instead of killing them with kindness, humble them with honorifics. This arrangement manages at once to trumpet the president of Russia’s arrival and cut him down to size.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Flower Scans—Creepy and/or Art
A Toledo art competition awards first prize to scanned flowers.
“Homage to de Heem”
by Glenn Osborn, Perrysburg, OH
Image: via Toledo Blade
Last month an electronic ripple ran through the gardening blogsphere, as Kathy Purdy tried her hand, eyes, office machinery, and snowdrops in a premiere floral scan. Purdy had been inspired by Katinka Matson, and her inspiration was contagious. Cultivated and May Dreams Garden and Mucknmire posted their experiments, too. “The scans look like old Dutch paintings to me,” wrote Ki. “I guess the limited amount of scanning light gives it the North window diffuse lighting artists like so much.”
Glenn Osborn of Perrysburg, Ohio, thought so too. His Homage to de Heem is a floral photo scan (CORRECTION: it’s a “digital photo collage”—see discussion and source in comments) after the renowned 17th Century Flemish/Netherlandish artist Jan Davidsz de Heem, whom some consider the greatest still life painter of all time.
As in de Heem’s works, Osborn brings flowers together with berries and insects. A fine striped caterpillar toiling its way up a stem makes the Osborne piece especially lively.
Craig of Ellis Hollow and Annie, the Transplantable Rose, also posted their scanned flowers, both with some misgivings. “I don’t think I like the effect,” wrote Annie— “actually- it’s kind of creeping me out.” We found especially intriguing Pam Penick’s online musings April 21 after scanning a pretty, natural knickknack: a bird’s nest and eggs glued together. “Even calling this image a photograph seems unnatural to me,” wrote Pam, whose Digging was recently chosen the best garden photography blog. “Is this a photograph?” she asks. “Is there any art in it? Of course, people asked those very same questions about photography when photographs were first produced.”
With Pam’s reflections in mind, we were intrigued to find that Glenn Osborn’s “Homage to de Heem” won Best in Show at the 89th Toledo Area Artists’ exhibition. His scan of flowers and bugs was chosen from 655 entries in many media; 107 of those works, including “Homage to de Heem,” will be on view in the Works on Paper Galleries, Toledo Museum of Art, through July 8.
Sea grape flowers, by Nicole
via A Caribbean Garden
What is it about floral scans that make them suspect? Too easy or fast? Too mechanized a process? Pre-photography, in the French Academy’s Hierarchy of Genres, still life was a low life, too, ranking above only landscape painting on the scale of snoot. But, as Pam makes note, we busted that old ladder of worthiness at least 150 years ago. Now we recognize this and this as art. Major museums have canonized also this, at which the hinge on our open-mind begins creaking backward….
We wonder if scanned flowers strike many folks as non-art or nearly art because no matter the scanners, human and electronic, the images usually wind up looking very much the same. The effect is like a card trick: wondrous the first time you see it done, but then you learn it, and the magic leaks away.
A hankering after character draws us to the scans made nonchalantly, it seems, by Nicole, at A Caribbean Garden. On some, you can see flecks of dust shining from her scanner’s glass, but it doesn’t matter. Her vitex blooms and tiny sea grape flowers strike us as originals—so why not?—as ART.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Tuberose Tiaras for Brides and Gods
Sandy Ao finds Calcutta’s floral artisans at work on wedding crowns.
Making tuberose crowns at Mullickghat flower market
May 2007, Calcutta, India
All Photos: Sandy Ao
In May, Calcutta’s Mullickghat—one of the oldest and busiest outdoor flower markets in the world—sparkles. There’s romance in the air and, in nearly every stall, bushels of sweet white blossoms. Photographer Sandy Ao writes, “This season it’s more Tuberose and less of Marigold. The tuberose thrives well in the Indian summer heat, and it’s marriage season all over India.”
“fragrance of the night”
Sandy spent a morning down by the Hoogly bridge two weeks ago. She found scores of men and boys stringing the flowers of tuberose (Rajniganda) into spectacular wedding accessories. These blooms, while not so large or shapely as other flowers, are gleaming white and renowned for holding their fragrance. “The marrying couple exchange Tuberose garlands while giving vows during the marriage ceremony. Like the way others exchange rings,” Sandy explains. We’d seen pictures of the great tuberose garlands, thick as pythons, that wedding couples wear, but never these gorgeous tiaras!
“The crowns are for the Brides from the Eastern Region of India,” Sandy tells us. Typically, men teach crown-making to their young sons; working side by side, they thread the blossoms into pearly ornaments—exquisite pieces that sell, Sandy says, for Rs. 150 - 250 ($3.70 - $6.17 USD) apiece.
“I was informed most of the artisans are from the neighbouring state of Orissa,” just south of West Bengal, she writes. “They are traditional artists and able gardeners. Most of the florists who daily bring the flowers to the offices/shops/home,” in Calcutta, “are from Orissa.”
Tuberoses arrive from Orissa
Mullickghat market, Calcutta
Sandy wandered among the artisans as they wove and traded ... “with all these flower sellers and buyers busily bargaining the price, one tends to forget that we are living in modern times. Time just stands still… we don’t see any crooked person and face no danger of being robbed or mugged. I guess no one has the time for anything other than buying flowers or selling flowers. In between there are vendors selling country made ice cream or homemade soft drinks… and some fresh fruit sellers, and tea makers, and lunch makers… and the Barbers busily shaving or cutting hair!” Sandy writes, “After a few months when the monsoon sets in, the Marigold will take over the market scene.” But for now, tuberose presides—in its glory.
Crown fit for a bride
tuberoses, sunflowers and roses
Polianthes tuberosa is a welcome and omnipresent wedding guest, especially in Bengal. Bright and sweet, it appears in crowns and garlands, also in decorations for the couple’s getaway car and even the marriage bed (Phul Shajya). Rajniganda translates as “fragrance of the night.”
We hope someday to see a 1974 movie called Rajniganda (Tuberose) —you guessed it , a love story. In the film, a young woman is torn between her hometown sweetheart and go-getter she meets in Bombay. As she mind-wrestles to know which man is her soul mate, the gift of tuberoses—that fragrance!—brings an answer.
By the way, “Tuberose is known to improve one’s capacity for emotional depth. By opening the crown chakra it improves psychic powers.” How fitting that a bride would wear rajniganda on her head. “And these are for the God Lord Shiva,” Sandy writes. “Some of the flower sellers told me they can use these crowns for the God /Goddess and the brides. I guess all are pure and holy in the same manner!”
Cut-Flower Trade • Florists • Religious Rituals • Secular Customs • Permalink
Sunday, May 20, 2007
Outing the Preakness ‘Black Eyed Susans’
Pimlico pulls a fast one with Maryland’s state flower.
Robby Albarado aboard Preakness winner Curlin
raises an ersatz Rudbeckia, 5/19/07
Photo: Al Behrman, for AP
A dear old friend of ours—a Virginian—once advised, “People from Maryland can’t be trusted.” My! At the time we thought that swipe was horribly unfair, but conduct after yesterday’s Preakness Stakes has given us pause.
People with nothing better to do saw a thrilling horserace Saturday; Curlin, ridden by Robby Albarado, beat Derby winner Street Sense by a head in a photo finish. Then as they do at Pimlico, the chestnut colt was led to the Winner’s Circle to wear his victory: the ceremonial blanket of black eyed susans.
1st class postage stamp from another era
with Maryland state bird and flower
Image: Perry’s perennial pages
Rudbeckia hirta is Maryland’s state flower, and has been since 1918. “Many farmers at the time considered the Black-eyed Susan and the Goldenrod,” Kentucky’s state flower, “to be weeds. Some even claimed that the Black Eyed Susan was not native to Maryland. This argument continued until 1960 when the Baltimore Sun published an article stating ‘Susan came to Maryland, not on the Ark or the Dove, but as a migrant from the Midwest mixed in clover and hayseed.’”
Choosing a non-native as one’s state flower is not all that uncommon (Indiana, in a real stretch, selected the peony), and it’s certainly no cause for mistrust. But the Preakness prize is another matter. “Colonel Edward R. Bradley’s Bimelech in 1940 was the first winner to wear the floral blanket of Black-Eyed Susans.” But Curlin draped in flowers deserved a double take. Those weren’t black eyed susans at all!! After a little snooping we’ve learned that Pimlico has substituted what it calls “Viking daisies,” 80 bunches of them, for Rudbeckia in the victory garland. More precisely, these appear to be a pompom chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum x morifolium.
Black Eyed Susans in July
St. Clement’s Island, Maryland
Photo: St. Mary’s County
Why would the Preakness forego the state’s true and only designated “weed” for a novelty cut flower? The track justifies the switch because, it claims, Black eyed susans “do not bloom until June in Maryland.” Oh really. How long have we been able to get tulips in February and orchids at Christmas? Twisting Jimmy Buffet a bit, isn’t it June somewhere?
Here you’ll find details of how the Preakness’s 90-inch garland is constructed. Read if you dare: “Upon completion, the center of the daisies are daubed with black lacquer to recreate the appearance of a Black-Eyed Susan.”
Now, botany is not our strong suit, but even we could tell these black eyed susans were fakes. The tip off? Black eyed susans have a “domed center of disc florets,” a dark brown button. And it sticks up. Chrysanthemums are “innies” and black eyed susans are “outies.”
To be fair, the Marylanders told on themselves and, more to the point, their attempt at floral counterfeiting was too lame to qualify as deceptive. Setting aside their trustworthiness for the moment, we know that the folks of Maryland are certainly well connected. How about if you guys call up some of your very important associates and get a few horticulturists (or if not that, importers) to work on supplying bona fides for the Preakness next year?