Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Andover Garden Club - Way to Go

A Massachusetts garden club predated the boom, outlasted the bust, and just celebrated eight decades with a show of historical designs.


Jan Brink discussed her 1980s-style arrangement at

the Andover Garden Club’s May meeting

Photo: Frances Y J Wheeler

The heyday of garden clubs seems to have been the mid-20th century. With a new affluence (relative to the Depression and WWII years), there were more home owners, antsy to get something happening in the yard. There was also unprecedented interest in civic groups of many kinds, an epidemic of joinerism that looks nearly Amish in our own Facebook era. And there were many more “ladies of leisure” – for feminism’s sake we might call them “women of ungainful employment.”

In 1950, 34% of all U.S. women were in the labor force; by 2000 60% were working jobs for pay. During that same 50 years, many garden clubs shriveled or died altogether.

All these changes make the Andover (Massachusetts) Garden Club a wonder. It began in 1927, 15 women who gathered “at the home of Mrs. Fred Chandler, 148 Main St., on Sept. 27.” According to Emily Young’s story,  for the Eagle-Tribune, “Most of the early members were married to Phillips Academy faculty and were viewed as intellectuals who enjoyed lectures, courses and concerts.” (From this prep school have graduated any number of famous lights, both bright and dim – including Humphrey Bogart, Frederick Law Olmstead, and George W. Bush).

Today, the Andover Garden Club is 100 members strong, all women – though the club’s PR chair Frances Wheeler writes,  “men are allowed to join.” Wheeler herself runs a PR firm; she tells us, “A few of our members have Phillips Academy ties, which is no surprise, given the substantial presence of the school in the community. However, the vast majority have no direct affiliation with PA.”


Judy Wright, standing at right, showed fellow Andover Garden Club members the

Katherine Suozzo Award she’d received at the Northern District meeting of the

Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts.

Photo: Frances Y J Wheeler

The group recently marked another anniversary with an inspired display of skill and historical insight.  At the May meeting, the Andover Garden Club enjoyed “Designs of the Times 1927-2008,” featuring eight floral arrangements by members, each executed in period style.

There’s a good run down of variations in design in the Eagle-Tribune story. According to the garden club members, in the lean 1930s amateur arrangers relied almost entirely on flowering branches and plants from their own backyards. Designs in the ‘50s were “linear and sparse” (maybe influenced by ikebana?) And in the ‘90s, under the spell of Martha Stewart, arrangers turned monofloristic, monochromatic, dense clusters of one flower, “Precisely perfect.”

Seeing so vividly how flower designs have changed, we want to know the why of it. Former club president, Joyce Bakshi, also a floral designer and lecturer, took up the challenge of answering and kindly permitted us to pass those responses along:

imageAnne Feeney and Penny Majike revived the 1970s with their arrangement for Designs of the Times

Photo:  Frances Y J Wheeler

“The reason floral designs change are many and really quite common:  The world is a smaller place. We can be in Europe or Asia in a matter of hours – flowers can be flown around the world within hours of being picked – a tulip sold at auction in Amsterdam this morning will be at the Boston Flower Market tomorrow morning at 5 AM.  I’ve actually ordered flowers from Colombia in a particular color one day and picked them up at the Flower Market in Boston the next. All it took was a phone call to South America and they were on a flight. This is not always expensive, but like all things in life sometimes it IS very expensive as well.

“’New’ flowers are developed: the Casablanca Lily – a beautiful fragrant lily—was not cultivated until 1970.  That’s only 1 of 1000s.  New varieties are developed all the time.

“When fashion is big and bold, floral design is usually big and bold: form, texture, shape and color play major roles.”

We found especially interesting Joyce’s observation that floral design follows economic trends:

“Some in the ‘business’ liken it to the stock market. When the market is up, the designs are big and lush; when the stock market is down, designs are sparse. The trend right now is fewer flowers or plant material with emphasis on line and form rather than abundance.

“Each style is beautiful.  I’m sure you’ve seen catalogs from Crate and Barrel or stores of that type with ads of a room with a table arrangement consisting of a clear glass square vase with one (1) gigantic leaf.  The beauty is in the simplicity and the perfection of the single specimen. Yes, this is a design.”

But the biggest design changes she notes are due to the greater range and easier availability of flowers themselves:  “Today we get tropical flowers at the grocery store; our mothers cut fresh flowers from their gardens – big difference in what each of us design. Evolution and change – the world we live in…it’s really exciting.” To see all eight decades of design, and more of the group’s May gathering, check out Frances’s photo album.

With thanks to Frances Wheeler and Joyce Bakshi, we’d be equally interested to learn more about what has NOT changed: faithful membership in the Andover Garden Club. Congratulations.

Posted by Julie on 05/31 at 04:21 PM
Culture & SocietyFloristsSecular CustomsPermalink

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jeff Koons—Buy Flower Me!

With big shiny blooms and cuddly “toys,” a U.S. artist makes serious money by breaking the cute-taboo.


Balloon Flower (Magenta), by Jeff Koons

at the Rachofsky estate, Dallas, Texas

Photo: Brad Loper for Dallas Morning News

Infantilism is certainly a reasonable place to start. But Jeff Koons, who at age 53 might qualify as grown up, has managed to build a whole career on it.

There have been many before him, of course, making art out of generalized regression, temper tantrums, even “go-potty” media. Koons’ approach is a bit different – he’s the world’s most pretentious toymaker.

And he has a thing for flowers. It was his monumental Ballon Flower (Magenta) that caught our attention (big shiny things do that well). The piece has been the plaything of Howard and Cindy Rachofsky,  Dallas art collectors, but they’ve decided to sell it at Christie’s London next month. Balloon Flower resembles just that; a huge metal rendering of those kiddie party favors clowns make, minus the squeak of inflated latex.

According to Bloomberg, the sculpture is “expected to fetch about 12 million pounds ($23.8 million).” You can buy a lot of hot wheels with that!


Jeff Koons - Art Magazine-Ads

Photo: Jeff Koons

Babies tend to look and act a lot alike, and Koons’ gurgles echo Andy Warhol (fond of flowers, too). Like Warhol, Koons has made a good living out of seeming to trespass on sacred cultural ground, only there’s quite a bit less of that than there was even in 1965. Rather than studied and serious, his works are bright, goofy and glossy. Rather than turning away (or pretending to) from commercialism and self-promotion, Koons hired an “image consultant” and bought full page ads for himself in art magazines. They’re wonderfully silly, showing the artist in a monogrammed bathrobe, sitting out by a sauna, accompanied by a couple of seals (trained?) who wear floral wreaths around their necks.

Like Warhol, Koons has captivated at least part of the art world (the $23.8 million-paying part) by flouting the conventions of disinterestnessness and intellectual depth.

Look Me!

Big flower Yum!

Money, Give!

imagePuppy, by Jeff Koons

Bilbao, Spain

Photo: Jesikha

Crassness is about the only thing that hasn’t already been promoted to significance by the art world. Ordinariness has, ugliness has, emptiness has. What’s left to play with?

Sentimental banality! So Koons has made images of kindergarten cutness his signature, breaking one of the last taboos left in the taboo-bereft art world. His Puppy, first created in 1992 for an exhibit in Arolson, Germany, is a giant topiary with 70,000 flowering plants. Koons declared that he intended the piece to symbolize “love, warmth and happiness.” We who have worn black to a hundred sullen art openings get the message. Gooey good cheer is “revolutionary.”

Howard Rachofsky told the Dallas Morning News that selling off Balloon Flower (Magenta) was “the most difficult decision I’ve ever made about a work of art.” Yes indeed. For safety’s sake, better bring angst back into the picture if you expect to raise $23 million. Otherwise that big purple flower might just look like just a toy somebody has outgrown.

Posted by Julie on 05/29 at 02:05 PM
Art & MediaCulture & SocietyPermalink

Monday, May 26, 2008

We Remember

Memorial Day in the U.S., 2008


Frank and Patti Grass mourned their son Cpl. Zachary

A. Grass June 25, 2007. Cpl. Grass was killed in Iraq

June 16 of last year by a roadside bomb. He was buried

at the Welty Cemetery near Beach City, Ohio.

Photo: AP/The Repository, Scott Heckel


The family of Sgt. Robert Surber gathered at his funeral June 11, 2007, at Oak Hill Cemetery in Inverness, Florida. The 24-year-old solder died in Iraq after an explosion.

Photo: AP Photo/Citrus County Chronicle, Matthew Beck


Elaine Atkins comforted her grandson Trevor Oliver during the funeral for his father June 12, 2007, in Bozeman, Montana. Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins died June 1, 2007, killed by a suicide bomber in Iraq.

Photo: AP Photo/The Bozeman Chronicle, Erik Petersen


Fred and Judy Moretti were escorted toward their daughter’s casket

July 3, 2007, in Linden, N.J. Army Sgt. Trista Moretti was killed in

an insurgent mortar attack on June 25, 2007, in Nasir Lafitah, Iraq.

Photo: George Oliver for AP


U.S. soldiers held a Memorial Day Ceremony at the U.S. Camp Eggers

base in Kabul, Afghanistan today, May 26, 2008.

Photo: Rahmat Gul, for Reuters


A peace symbol framed the California state capitol during

a March 2008 demonstration against the Iraq War.

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli, for AP



Posted by Julie on 05/26 at 02:52 PM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsReligious RitualsSecular CustomsPermalink

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Corpus Christi - Double-Bodied Rite

Was Easter fairly flowerless? Christians get a second crack at sacred celebration during Corpus Christi, most holy because the world’s in bloom.

imageCorpus Christi

floral carpet, 1999

Arundel Cathedral

Photo: Wellsprings of Pigrimage

Which came first, faith or flowers?

With apologies to theologians everywhere, we propose that flowers kicked off the propensity for believing. They’re a miracle for which human beings deserve no credit – or very little, even in our age of botanical tinkering. But their splendor seems to demand a human response, something drastic as prayer, as parades. Is it just coincidental that the highest holy days – Passover, Easter, the Norooz—occur in the springtime, when there were blossoms first to inspire devotion and ever after to augment it, with ornamentation?

By this logic, it makes sense that in parts of Europe where Easter itself can be a trifle chilly and flowerless, another religious celebration would come along closer to peak bloomtime.

Say, just now.  We have the Feast of Corpus Christi. You might call it a double-decker holy day since it honors the Eucharist – a ritual for a sacrament.

It began in 13th century France “following a vision by three nuns in Liege.” A vision inspired by flowers? We don’t know, but we do know that the custom spread in many floral forms across the Christian world. We’ve written here before about the magnificent floral carpets and processions in Genzano, Italy, on Corpus Christi. We now learn that the Duke of Norfolk witnessed one of these Italian festivals and brought the flower custom back to England.

At the Cathedral in Arundel, there have been floral carpets since 1877.  “In the early days, the flowers were grown and laid by workers from the Dukes of Norfolk’s nearby estate.” Today, the carpet making involves many members of the congregation; it appears that most of the blooms aren’t homegrown but imported and florist-supplied.


The 2008 Floral Carpet, Arundel Cathedral

honoring the rosary and Our Lady of Lourdes

Photo: Little Hampton Gazette

Corpus Christi, always the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, fell this year on May 23. Arundel’s floral carpet was laid two days in advance, a display for pagans, Christians, and anybody else to admire. On Corpus Christi itself there was, as each year, a special Mass, following which “the Sacrament is carried out along the Carpet of Flowers – this is the reason that the carpet is laid in the first place. Then a procession forms up with various religious groups who escort the Eucharist along the road to the castle” for a prayer of benediction, and back to the cathedral.


Spread the Word (through flowers as well as the Gospel)

the 2007 Corpus Christi carpet at Arundel Cathedral

Photo: Arundel Cathedral

There’s a wonderful video of parishioners making last year’s carpet. And what struck us was not only the beauty of the floral custom but the numbers of people who come together to bring it about. As much, or more, than sacred bread, isn’t this purposeful collaboration what’s meant by “the Body of Christ” ?

Next year this time, we hope to be in Poland for Boze Cialo—another spring, a slightly different tradition, but the same embodiment of inspiration. With flowers.

Posted by Julie on 05/24 at 01:32 PM
Culture & SocietyReligious RitualsPermalink
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