The flowers that bloom in the spring, Tra la

Gilbert and Sullivan, “The Mikado”

Peonies, pansies, hydrangeas and lilies of the valley are not your typical art materials, but there is one class of artists who habitually uses these and other blooms to create stunning works of art. Floral designers know the colors, habits, textures and forms of flowers as well as any painter knows his palette or sculptor knows his tools and materials.

In celebration of summer and the waning of the pandemic, “KC Studio” invited six area floral designers to each interpret one of six masterworks we selected from the collections of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

Heidi Nast, “KC Studio” co-founder, worked with Beco Flowers, Bergamot and Ivy, Flowers by Design, Dan Meiners Studio, Trapp and Company and Village Flower Company in their selection of an artwork to interpret. Nast also handled the logistics of getting all the arrangements to the Crossroads photography studio of Tal Wilson, who kindly allowed “KC Studio” photographer Jim Barcus to set up shop for the day.

As the “KC Studio” staff took deliveries from a succession of vans on an early May morning, the beauty of the arrangements took our breath away. Even more impressive was the designers’ inventiveness in responding to stylistically diverse paintings by Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.), Joanne Greenbaum, Kerry James Marshall, Claude Monet and Wilbur Niewald, and a basket by Elsie Holiday.

We also got to know a couple of the designers a bit. We learned that Stephanie Richwine, design manager for Village Flower Company, holds a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute, and that the designers at Beco Flowers all hold art history degrees! We also learned that floral designers feel no obligation to work exclusively with flowers, as evidenced by the appearance of bird’s nest gourds, mandarin oranges and kale in the featured arrangements.

The idea for these pages was inspired by the Saint Louis Art Museum’s annual “Art in Bloom” event, pairing artworks and floral designers with the arrangements displayed in the galleries near the works that inspired them. (Due to the pandemic, SLAM’s 2021 event was virtual.)

We hope you enjoy the convergence of talent represented in the following pages: the keen eye of photographer Jim Barcus, the formal acuity of “KC Studio” designer Carrie Brophy, the organization and follow-up of Heidi Nast and the skill and imagination of six of Kansas City’s top floral designers.

Thanks to Studio Dan Meiners for providing the perfect pedestal for the photo shoot.

Photos by Jim Barcus

Joanne Greenbaum, “Untitled,” (2013), oil, acrylic and ink on canvas, 90 x 80 inches (Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College. Acquired with funds provided by the Barton P. and Mary D. Cohen Art Acquisition Endowment at the JCCC Foundation. Photo by E.G. Schempf.)

Beco Flower

We selected flowers in their natural state: Long, blooming quince branches, arched scabiosa stems and trailing passion vine mimic the swirling movement of Joanne Greenbaum’s piece. Our arrangement is grounded by tropical pincushion protea and philodendron leaves that nod to the bold, graphic quality of her work. The splashes of vivid color throughout the piece are echoed by pops of bright blooms that spill out to the far-reaching corners of the arrangement.

Kerry James Marshall, “Memento #5,” (2003), acrylic and glitter on paper adhered to unstretched canvas banner, 9 feet x 13 feet (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Purchase: acquired through the generosity of the William T. Kemper Foundation – Commerce Bank, trustee. 2003.24)

Studio Dan Meiners

Our design features dyed Phalaenopsis orchids, peonies, calla lilies, poppy pods, rolled cordyline and aspidistra leaf. We used minimal color in a vertical design with well-organized materials to emphasize bold forms and clean lines.

Jose Alvarez (D.O.P.A.), “Forever Radiant,” (2009), feathers, porcupine quills, crystals, collage on inkjet print on archival paper mounted on board, 24 x 19 inches (Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection. Museum purchase made possible by a gift from the R. C. Kemper Charitable Trust, 2010.15)

Village FlowerCompany

We used pincushion protea, tulips, solidago, thistle, Pink Floyd roses, free spirit roses, green trick, hybrid delphinium, purple button poms, kale, painted aspidistra and robellini. The vibrant palette of the arrangement bears a striking resemblance to the vivid colors and shapes in this contemporary piece of art.

Elsie Holiday, “Changing Woman Basket,” (2008), sumac, 12 3/4 x 15 7/8 inches (Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College / photo by E. G. Schempf)

Bergamot & Ivy

We were inspired by the juxtaposition of artist Elsie Holiday’s traditional Navajo basket weaving with her choice of non-traditional motifs and designs driven by her imagination. We chose flower species that all have varieties native to North America, but selected more unusual, cultivated blooms. The elements used are fritillaria, celosia, two types of allium, and petite corn with the husks intact. We also incorporated birds nest gourds, which have a long history of many functional uses for Native people of North America.

Claude Monet, “Boulevard des Capucines,” (1873-1874), oil on canvas, 31 5/8 x 23 3/4 inches (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Purchase: the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation Acquisition Fund. f72-35)

Trapp and Company

The components of the design were assembled in an obvious French manner, and they included lavender stock, purple hydrangeas, purple and white pansies, lavender clematis, campanula compacta, Solomon’s seal, Coral Charm peonies, dianthus, hellebores, jasmine and Convallaria Majalis lily of the valley, a gift to the ladies in the court of King Charles IX on May 1, which began May Day.

Wilbur Niewald, “Current River II,” (1965), oil on canvas, 54 1/2 x 70 1/2 inches (Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of J. Scott Francis, Kansas City, Missouri, in memory of Sally Kemper Wood, 2011.24.01. © Wilbur Niewald, courtesy of the artist and Haw Contemporary. Photo by James Allison Photography, 2013)

Flowers by Design

I was drawn to this painting because of its vibrant, saturated contrasting colors and orderly yet beautifully textured lines. The flowers used were bells of Ireland, Coral Charm peonies, Explorer red roses, sunflowers and Mandarin oranges.

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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