In the early part of 2017 I learned about a travel scholarship opportunity through the Toledo Museum of Art. The Palmer Scholarship provides funding for travel expenses in order to pursue an art related experience. With the application deadline looming and just a couple of weeks to research and design a proposal - I turned to my curiosity around Dutch Master floral still life paintings.
A couple of years ago I discovered a painting by Rachel Ruysch at the TMA and immediately became interested. As an avid museum goer, I admittedly never paid attention to this genre before. However, something about the way I was viewing flowers at that moment in time and accepting them as my medium, not merely a job - had me taking a closer look. I began to be excited by forgotten flower varieties, surprising foliage, and the use of decay. With this in mind, I felt a deeper study of these paintings would make me a reasonable candidate for the scholarship. I was right. As an extra treat, I received my winning notification the week of my 40th birthday!
Then real planning began. In my proposal I stated that I would visit a number of museums in Europe with well documented collections, and a floral study alongside a florist of my choosing. Squeezing my trip in between weddings and wanting to make sure I would be seeing gardens in bloom landed me at early September. I took off for London and Amsterdam, with goals of 3 museums and one floral workshop.
My first stop was the National Gallery in London. They have a small but beautifully curated room dedicated to only floral still life paintings. Then off to The Ashmolean in Oxford. Their collection is also in a single (although large) room, which includes all manner of Dutch and Flemish still life. Again, the florals are outstanding. Finally, The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I had been to Amsterdam a number of times before but never felt the pull to go that particular museum, feeling more at home in quieter museums. As expected, it was my least favorite of the three, but it did give me insight as to why these paintings exist.
These paintings are chock full of imagery beyond flowers. The botanical and life like accuracy of insects, animals, shells, flowers, and fruit draw you in. While it could be said that the early artists were speaking to the transience of life and it's earthly matters - it is likely that the later artists were largely creating these pieces as examples of skill for buyers of decorative art. After all, the paintings were mostly illusions. The undulating stems and unlikely collections of blooms were purely for the sake of the composition and not a study of an arrangement in front of the artist.
While still in London, I had the pleasure of spending two days with the sister duo behind Aesme Flowers. The Aesme aesthetic is very much aligned with my own - a relaxed natural approach to design and working with the seasons. I had a feeling that Alex and Jess would be a perfect complement to my studies as they have a shared interest in the Dutch Masters. We spent the first day getting sopping wet in their cutting garden outside the city and the next trying our hands at recreating our own still life displays. Armed with props and flowers we spent the day collaborating and waxing on in great detail. Digging into the rigidity of some arrangements and the distinct "S" curve of others. What a struggle it was to leave behind our own rules in favor paying homage to these paintings. We were bound by the flowers available in the September garden- which made some common themes a challenge. The strong blue moments, heavy headed blooms towering above the rest, and unnatural arcing stems. In the end, it was pure luxury to have a day for conversation and reflection, arranging and rearranging.
Bottom two photos by Jess, Aesme Flowers
A few garden moments from last year... Cobwebs, compost, dog, messes - it's all part of the process. If you are interested in supporting this cutting garden project, consider a summer bouquet subscription. Click here for details.
A couple of weeks ago Cam and I began chatting about how she could freshen up her bridal line for an upcoming wedding show. Her hand stitched flowers can be added to a hair comb, sash, flower crown, and even a bouquet. They do make for a lovely accessory, but we were curious to see how they would pair with fresh flowers as well- we thought my designs might give them a look that is a bit more current for today's brides. I found that including a few of her blooms made designing a cascading bouquet a breeze and I always love the look of a single large bloom worn in the hair.
The Ribbonry's work is bespoke and the shop is open by appointment.
Last October, I had the pleasure of co-designing a tablescape for the Art in Food event, at the Toledo Museum of Art. Cam Nitschke of The Ribbonry in Perrysburg and I collaborated on a design inspired by dutch master Rachel Ruysch's, Flower Still Life. When Cam and I began working together, she had already chosen this piece to work from - her choice was serendipitous as I had previously studied this painting for an earlier floral project.
Cam's arcing and bobbing hand stitched millinery flowers added a painterly effect to our finished piece that could not have been achieved with fresh flowers alone. Upon close inspection of the painting, you may notice bugs and butterflies - our arrangement was no different, with preserved butterflies and stitched caterpillars creeping along leaves. The accents of pewter, linen, china, and salt pulled together the elements of a Dutch merchant's dinner party. Peek through...
During the quiet months of winter, I often enjoy taking on a design project for the pure joy of it. Winter is appropriate in part because I have the luxury of time to spend thinking and playing with an idea and in part because I crave the freshness of flowers throughout our cold months. This winter I was inspired by Art in Bloom, a springtime exhibit hosted by museums across the country, and chose to embark on an independent study of Toledo Museum of Art's works alongside my florals. After choosing a few obvious pieces and a few personal favorites, I took time to think about particular flowers, colors, and forms that felt representative of the artwork. This project was immensely rewarding by allowing me to design with new varieties of flowers and design styles, playing with photography, and exploring our fabulous museum in a new way. So much so that I've decided, I will continue to explore this study throughout the year in order to play more with artwork that inspires me at different times of the year and the seasonality of flowers at those times. Enjoy a look at part one...
Flower Still Life, Rachel Ruysch
Icelandic Poppies, Garden Roses, Carnations, Ranunculus, Parrot Tulips, Spirea, Sweet Pea
Flower Brooch, Sterle' Jewelers
Dancer Resting, Henri Matisse
Fritillaria, Ferns, Roses, Ranunculus, Anthirium, Icelandic Poppies, Heather
Still Life with Bottle, Giorgio Morandi
Flowers and Fruit, Henri Fantin-Latour