Floral Artists Reimagine Iconic Masterpieces For Saint Louis Art Museum’s ‘Art In Bloom’
Since 2000, florists from across the St. Louis region have joined forces with the Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) to reinterpret some of the museum’s favorite works of art for its annual “Art in Bloom” festival, a celebration of flowers and fine art. This year’s festival will take place March 2-4, during which 40 iconic works will yet again be recreated through unique floral arrangements, transforming the familiar institution into a new, living canvas with striking, fresh blooms throughout the galleries. To complement the floral interpretations, SLAM also organizes a number of events to coincide with the festival, featuring botanical culinary and cocktail demonstrations, evening parties and floral and garden presentations.
Keep reading for our discussion with SLAM’s Ann Burroughs, head of engagement and interpretation, and Sherri Williams, educator of adult learning, for a teaser of the artwork that will be featured in this year’s festival and a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into producing it.
How are the florists chosen?
Ann: We take into account past participation, experience, creativity and variety of work represented in their application images and the geographic locations represented. It’s important to us to select a diverse group of designers from across the city. It’s always been a nice mix of commercial florists, garden clubs and freelance designers. We had a record number of applicants this year, so the selection was very competitive. Many of the florists chosen are first-time participants, which is very exciting.
How are florists assigned works of art to recreate, and what is the installation process like?
Sherri: The selection is random; florists are invited to the museum in January to pull a number that corresponds to a work of art. They have about two months to create their work. Installation happens early on the Thursday of the week of the festival. It’s really exciting to see the florists arrive and to get the first look at their creations. Some assemble on-site, and others bring their designs completed. Our installation crew then checks that the arrangements meet the requirements for size, height and width. Once everything is installed, the engineering team makes sure each arrangement is beautifully lit—just as we’d light a work of art on the walls. All of the florists provide an explanation of the choices they made in their arrangements, which visitors enjoy discovering.
Is it too soon to ask about the artwork that you are including in this year’s festival?
Sherri: We have a selection process where we consider the works in all galleries, looking for new works and making sure we’re considering a diverse array of artists, styles and time periods. We’re very intentional about looking at previous years’ works of art and not repeating them.
Ann: This year, we’ll feature a beautiful Māori feather cloak from our Oceanic galleries, which is not often on view because it’s light-sensitive. In our arms and armor gallery, we’re including five different medieval combat weapons that are installed together as a unified work for a florist to interpret. We’ll have many old favorites from our impressionist galleries and lovely selections from our Asian galleries, including an ancient Chinese bronze suspension bell. Two Native American works will be interpreted this year, including a painting by contemporary artist Dyani White Hawk, as well as a beautiful beaded martingale restraint used for horseback riding.
How are the winners of the design awards determined?
Ann: There are three winning categories—Best in Show, Employee’s Choice and People’s Choice. For the “Best in Show” award, a team of judges—including SLAM curator, community member and featured presenter Margot Shaw, of Flower magazine, and Nashville floral designer Mattie Bush—will judge the arrangements based on a specific set of criteria. We want to consider all creative aspects of the interpretations. The judges look at elements of design, use of materials and overall expression of the artwork. Then, SLAM staff gets to roam the museum and vote for their favorites. And, finally, visitors get their turn. Visitor ballots can be submitted on Friday and Saturday of the festival, with the winners announced Sunday.
We are always impressed by the imagination and creativity that goes into each florist’s design. A few of our winners last year included florist David J. Bovier of Ken Miesner’s Flower Shoppe who reimagined artist Julie Mehretu’s abstract painting “Grey Space (distractor)” in the contemporary galleries, taking home the Employee’s Choice Award. For their rendition of Paolo de Matteis’ “The Annunciation,” Mark Critchfield and Laura Streett of the Garden Club of St. Louis were awarded the People’s Choice Award.
How do you both contribute to bringing the festival to life each year?
Sherri: I plan experiences and events including lectures, talks, demonstrations, classes and collaborations with local organizations. I’m also planning a Friday night happy-hour event for the public, which includes music and cocktails in Sculpture Hall.
Ann: We hope that we make it look easy, but hours and hours of planning go into the festival. My team will be working with our docent volunteers, who we station throughout the museum. Docents share interesting information about the artwork and interpretations with visitors. Some of the florists come throughout the weekend, so they can speak directly about their arrangements, which visitors really enjoy.
And the festival is free?
Ann: Absolutely. Museum admission is free for visitors of all ages. Featured festival speakers and events have a fee, and tickets are required. On Family Sunday, all events are free.
“Art in Bloom” is happening Friday, March 2 through Sunday, March 4. The festival includes floral presentations and lectures, family activities, dining and shopping. Admission to “Art in Bloom” is free. Tickets are not required to attend the festival and view the floral displays in the galleries. Featured programs are ticketed. Tickets are on sale now at slam.org/bloom.
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