Flora in Winter 2024: Interpretive designers

A1 designer: Judy L. Gray

Bayberry Garden Club and Edgewood Garden Club of Rhode Island

Vase, Kashan, 1150–1299

This vase, with its use of striking color combinations and simple forms, caught my eye as a designer. The glaze, with its weaving of colors and blue tones, spoke of depth, sophistication, and elegance. Blue is calming and serene, which balances the allure of black—a color that tends to be mysterious, dark, and powerful. Contrast, texture, and movement are but a few of the elements that come into play when interpreting this art form.

A2 designer: Michele Landes
Assistant: Jane Davis

Southborough Gardeners

Torso of a Guardian of the Buddhist Faith, Kamakura period (1185–1333) 

Because this piece offered so much movement and texture but very little color contrast, we chose to stay within a limited color palette and play with plant material of varying texture…smooth, woody, feathered, and petal-soft. The container needed to provide continuity of color, stability for some height in the design, and visual weight since the art was proportionally bottom-heavy. After trying three containers, this one finally checked all the boxes. 

A3 designer: Minal Akkad

Framingham Garden Club 

Guanyin Seated in a Grotto, 960–1279, late Song Dynasty 

Grottos are generally a focus of worship and meditation during the Buddhist era and during that time became very popular in China. I have used carved driftwood and another similar piece to relate the grotto. Here I have used two different types of containers. The one below the grotto on the right is more of a contemporary type, so I have used bleached New Zealand flax and tropical flowers. Whereas in the other container have used similar colors and textures (painted diagonally and using paper towel for visual texture). 

I will be using manipulated sago palm leaves, dark-color roses, and some Ti leaves. The flowers used during that period were mostly lotus and bamboo. I did not use them due to the museum environment (especially heat). You will find different textures, colors, and forms in this arrangement which emotionally links the designer and the viewer. The combination of contemporary and traditional creates an interest and contrast to the design.  

A4 designer: Julie Lapham

Worcester Garden Club & Southborough Gardeners

Scholar’s Rock, Chinese, 20th century

The plant material was chosen for its dark, rich colors and for the forms which give volume to this overall sculptural design.

A5 designer: Carla Morey

Milton Garden Club  

Child’s Mummy Case, 32 BCE–200 CE  

My design is meant to be an interpretation of various elements in the case. The container is a horizontal, bronze trough reflecting the shape and underlay of color in the design. The Agra Wool, used as my mechanic, blends into the vessel. I concentrated on textures, forms, and color to represent the historical period of the piece. Gold is prevalent in the dried palm leaves; gold was considered the life force of the sun god Ra. Wearing gold was meant to ensure a peaceful afterlife. Red and blue round out the color palette. I made sure to choose materials of different forms and sizes to create depth and visual interest to carry you through the piece. Glass tubes are secured to bamboo sticks and wrapped with waxed chord, representing the wrapping of the young child within.  

A6 designer: Barbara Trayers Athy

Worcester Garden Club 

Greek Water Jar (Hydria): Theseus Pursuing Women, 440–430 BCE 

This Greek water jar speaks of contrasts, both in the potter’s black and red (orange) figured designs, and in the subject depicted: Theseus in pursuit of women. 

On first view, my thoughts went immediately to calla lilies because of their substantial yet elegant form and because of the colors typically available at the New England Flower Exchange in Chelsea—black and orange. Research revealed the symbolism of the calla flower—the contradictions of life and fertility but also death. In ancient Greek culture, the flower was thought to represent magnificent beauty and is also tied to a story about the infant Hercules. 

A7 designer: Joan Laracy

Worcester Garden Club 

The Crucifixion, about 1300 

I intend to create a horizontal pavé arrangement that includes a flat vertical element (Christ on the cross). I hope to imitate the linear, flat nature of this fresco with flowers to create the movement between the biblical figures of Mary, St John, and Mary Magdalene. 

The pavé design will incorporate: 

  • Antique peach carnation: the biblical significance derived from the Greek name Dianthus—Dios (God) and Anthos (flower)—divine and sacred in origin. Associated with motherly love; 
  • Magnolia bud and leaves, the symbol of purity and virtuous nature 
  • Calla lily, symbolizing holiness, faith, and purity 

The vertical element will incorporate: 

  • Palm, a symbol of eternal life and victory over death 
  • Orchid. The symmetry of the flowers to its stem has led to the orchid being a symbol of beautiful perfection (Christ). 

In Christian theology, the spots are believed to represent the blood of Christ.  

A8 designer: Trần Vũ Thu-Hằng

Beth Shalom Garden Club & Milton Garden Club

Hygieia, Goddess of Health, 100s (2nd century) CE

I felt compelled to complement the statue with a bowl and snakes (snake alliums), as Hygieia is often depicted.

The folds of her garment are rendered with dried banana leaves. Marble can be sculpted to look as if it drapes, so flat banana leaves can be manipulated to look like they have folds. All the shades of the marble statue spoke to me in flower colors, so I am using ivory/beige with a blush of pink and very light yellow. I depended on textures and forms of the flowers for interest since the design is monochromatic.

I remember hiking in southern Turkey and seeing scabiosa in the wild, so I included scabiosa pods (it looks like golf balls on stems). I included tulips and carnations, prevalent in Turkish culture, to connect antiquity through the Ottoman empire to present-day Turkey.

Because Hygieia is the goddess of health, I incorporated some ginger into the design. Ginger also lends heft to the design like the marble.

Having considered different containers, including a sink (a nod to “health and hygiene”), I had the “aha moment” of remembering this vase (with all its nicks and scuffs, like the statue) from my years volunteering in the flower guild at a church in Dorchester where my youngest son sang in the choir. The

rector’s wife said, “Of course you can borrow it!” I remember fondly the hours peacefully arranging flowers for the altar in this container while the organist practiced. There are now regular quarterly Bach concerts at that church. This weekend, the container gets to be in front of a goddess from antiquity.

Confession: In previous design attempts, I created a bamboo structure with bamboo slats and folded, dried banana leaves to honor the transformation of materials from their natural state to something very different, similar to the transformation from marble to statue. But it was 5.5 feet tall and too unwieldy in my tiny 12-year-old car. I need to keep Flora in Winter in mind when I get my next car!

If you visited my house in the last few weeks, there were folded banana leaves over all of my hot water radiators. And bamboo slats everywhere!

B1 designer: Maureen Christmas

Acton Garden Club  

Paolo Veneziano, Panels from the Wings of a Triptych, mid-14th century 

Without any knowledge of what this spectacular piece was, I was drawn to the curious shape of the panels. I’ve since learned the open space is where two additional panels featuring the birth of Christ and the crucifixion should be. The side panels would hinge over the central works to protect it, revealing, when closed, two more saints painted in a less opulent manner. The way the piece is displayed with The Adoration of the Kings (on the wall behind it) centered on the opening is an homage to the original altar piece. 

I intend to create what is called in the flower show world a Duo Design. The front side will interpret the opulence and detail evident in the front panels. The back side will be more restrained. These panels were painted on a red background (as opposed to the gold of the inside panels) which emphasizes the sacredness and glory revealed when the panels/doors were opened.  

I will try to capture the reverence of this altar piece. I have interpreted another piece in this room previously and have in my collection the gold representations of halos I created for it. As an eco-friendly designer, I’m reusing these along with several other rings to represent the halos of the seven saints depicted in the panels. They serve as a divider between the front and the back – rather like closing the doors. 

B2 designer: Kathy Michie

Worcester Garden Club  

Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo di Credit, A Miracle of Saint Donatus of Arezzo, 1475–1479 

As we walked around the Museum seeing the objects chosen, I looked at this wee painting and worried.   

I knew it was going to be all about scale. The floral design needed to be small in a big space, and if it were wrong, it could be disaster. 

Secondly, proportion became important. The painting is very close to twice as wide as it is high. So this ratio inspired all the other parts. The wooden bench was something my husband built years ago; it happened to be the right proportion and brought some additional height. (I love being able to honor him.) 

Then I asked a potter friend (Kim Cutler) if she would make a rectangular ceramic container. She said “No,” but that she would help me and show me how to do it myself…and she did. So I made the container in the same proportions, thanks to Kim!  

Proportion and scale happen to be two of the Elements of Design.

B3 designer: Ruth Evans

Framingham Garden Club

School of Fontainebleau, Woman at Her Toilette, 1550–1570

I want the design to have an elegant feminine quality to it, but one that is more sophisticated than sweet and/or girlish. The colors in the painting are muted, and I will use color blocking to convey what I see as three segments of the painting: the woman, the dark background, and the green room with the female attendant in the rear.

Muted café-au-lait-colored roses, as well as similarly colored single-stem chrysanthemums provide a close match to the woman’s coloring in the painting. I will use Leucadendron, with its tall, straight stems covered with deep green to deep red foliage, along with “cigars” of dark Ti Leaves to represent the dark wall behind the woman. Rolled green Aspidistra leaves provide the impression of a separate background room where the maid is at work. Ribbon grass woven with fine metallic gold ribbon, and a “necklace” of steel grass threaded with Hypericum berries are “jewel” accents. If available, I hope to add a bit of Koala Grass to imply the gossamer effect of the garment the woman wears.

The container was originally purchased to be used in a design relating to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, at the MFA in Boston. It could not accommodate the large Palm Spaths and Protea we planned to use, so was put aside until now. Its pebbly, muted gold surface fits with the sense of luxury the woman’s surroundings convey.

B4 designer: Thelma H. Shoneman

Acton Garden Club  

School of Fontainebleau, Woman at Her Toilette, 1550–1570 

I chose to use floral color blocking to highlight the three areas of interest I found in the painting: the maid, the woman at her toilette, and the mirror on the dressing table. Dark foliage was selected for the background. Feminine colors and textures suggest the ladies. The delicate gold jewelry and detail on her sheer wrap inspired me to manipulate foliage using gold wire. My container is a lantern-shaped candle holder with a glass liner. I inserted silver paper fastened to glass to suggest the mirror. The gold design on the container also relates to the jewelry and headpiece. 

B5 designer: Nancy Martin
Assistant: Aparna Kumar

Framingham Garden Club

Attributed to Mathieu Le Nain, The Young Card Players, 1638–1642

The Le Nain brothers were well known genre, portrait, and miniature painters in 17th-century Northern France, who moved to Paris in 1630, establishing a workshop. It is difficult to identify one brother’s work from the others. The youngest, Mathieu, became the official painter of the city Paris in 1633. He was honored as a Chevalier and as member of the Academy. Their work is realistic and considered sympathetic of the peasant lifestyle without exaggeration. Many Le Nain paintings were believed to be lost during the French Revolution. Card players and gamesters are frequent themes in genre paintings of this period. Here the boys are playing Primero, the forerunner of poker. Look for the markers on the table. Other versions of this painting hang in the Louvre and as a part of King George IV’s Royal Collection in England.

At first glance, the dominance of brown shades makes for a dark, limited palette. Your eye is immediately drawn to the bold, reddish-orange cloak wrapped around the boy in the right foreground. This cloak appears in many of the artist’s works. Searching for a container is always the initial challenge. Look closely—you can see the card table is a board atop a large woven storage basket. Many baskets were considered. Our final choice was the basket that held a large amaryllis, with another pot inside to make it waterproof.

A variety of dark greens serve as a backdrop, suggesting the room’s wood-paneled walls while extending the vertical lines. Cutting small white mums into squares to resemble cards did not work, so white hypericum berries are used. Six of the boys are grouped around the table, while the 7th is standing in a doorway in the right corner. The card players are sitting under the watchful eyes of the woman. The kale was selected to represent the card players and roses for the woman wearing an orange skirt. The woven lily grass continues the textures of the basket and their clothes.

Are the older boys teaching a younger boy to play this card game or is he being cheated? Some players seem to be showing their hands while others are holding their cards close to their chest. Is there more than meets the eye?

B6 designer: Sally E. Jablonski

Worcester Garden Club 

Francesco Solimena, Modello for the Assumption of the Virgin (Capua Cathedral), about 1725 

The white ginger I was hoping to get from Maui is not coming in due to the high rainfall; it needs a dry environment, and it is rotting. I will substitute with another tropical from my box. I am using the new blue ocean series of chrysanthemums that were made available this summer. They are a true blue and not dyed. They come in shades of blue and purple. 

The design will come together Tuesday night. 

B7 designer: Susan Dewey

Worcester Garden Club & Osterville Garden Club  

Willem van de Velde II, Storm at Sea, about 1675 

One of the challenging—yet fun—things about Flora in Winter is that you never quite know how your design is going to turn out. Of course, when installation morning arrives you need to have your design in mind, and many designers have usually done several mock-ups. You must be sure your design is stable for the Museum’s necessarily stringent safety considerations, that it adorns the space, color, and size of the gallery you are working in, and most of all celebrates the priceless work of art you are interpreting.  

This is my 22nd year taking part in Flora in Winter, and I did a mock-up of almost every one of my designs (using fake flowers or cheap supermarket flowers for this is a great idea—otherwise the cost will be exorbitant!) 

Today, as I write this, I am a week and a half out from our Flora in Winter installation day. I have two containers in mind for next weekend’s mock-up session. Choosing your container is the very first thing you need to do, and often the toughest! What shape, color, and material, is it stable and leak-proof, and can it keep your design alive for five days in the Museum where all humidity has been removed? 

I have two containers in mind, both of which are all of the above, but they are very different in color, shape, and size. One is white with a wavy edge, perfect for capturing the movement of the waves in my painting, Storm at Sea. One is black, an ikebana-style container that reflects the shape of the sinking, storm-battered ship. I can’t wait to play with both containers—and who knows, another may rise from the depths of my creativity! 

In any design, the textures and physical characteristics of your plant material is as important as choosing colors that evoke the work of art’s meaning. The muted colors of this painting—white, dark blue, black, gray, slate blue—are easy choices. I am thinking of white calla lilies, maybe white Stargazer lilies, statice, maybe hydrangea…and of course sea holly and eucalyptus for the blue tones. For textures and to capture the man-made fragility of the sinking ships, I will probably use curly willow sticks (perfect for masts!) which are available in all shapes and sizes at the flower market. For design styles, I may do a Line Mass Design (think soaring sticks and calla lilies down to a mass of storm-tossed Stargazer lilies, swirling down in an S-shape over the edge of the container.) Or perhaps I will just use a simple storm of calla lilies and curly willow, depending on the size and shape of what we find in our visit to Chelsea’s flower market in the days before Flora in Winter. 

I may even toss these ideas in the drink and come up with something completely different for my trial runs this coming weekend! As I said, this is part of the challenge—but also the excitement and joy—of being part of Flora in Winter. We never know how our creative ships will come in to celebrate works in the Museum, but it’s the voyage that is the best part of every Flora in Winter! 

B8 designer: Andrea T. Little
Assistant: Bruce Little 

Westborough Garden Club 

Robert Hubert, The Shipwreck, 1780–1790 

My interpretative and creative factors used for this painting include:  

  • Mr. Robert’s capture of the atmosphere’s natural effects on the landscape 
  • Mr. Robert’s insertion of survivors from this shipwreck 
  • The floral designer’s conceptual vision 

Choosing a container was challenging given the fact that the designer’s pedestal measures 18 inches square and 40 inches high to interpret an art piece measuring 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide! 

The combination of the principals of design, especially proportion (amount) and scale (size) were used.  When an artist was commissioned to create a painting of an architectural piece, the artist was not concerned with accurate representation. The artist could be freer in interpretation and artistic license.  Using French and Roman techniques and following Mr. Robert’s love of architecture encouraged this designer to use a “freer artistic license” in all phases of this interpretation.

B9 designer: Marne Mailhot

Worcester Garden Club  

John La Farge, Suonatore, 1887 

La Farge’s woman playing a guitar captured my interest right away because of the lovely color palette. I knew garden roses and peach stock would play nicely into an interpretive design of our musician. Parrot tulips seem like the right accent for her sleeve, and a hint of blue tweedia for her slipper’s embroidery. Fantail pussy willow mimic the wood and strings she adoringly cradles while we wonder what she is thinking… 

C1 designer: Penny Spear-Kaczyk
Assistant: Gene Kaczyk

Worcester Garden Club 

Attributed to Zedekiah Belknap, Sarah and Elizabeth Farley, about 1835 

Initially I was struck by the two sisters. Upon further observation, I noticed a bite from the apple. This brought me delight when I read that the younger sister had taken a bite from the apple (perhaps encouraged by the artist) to keep her sitting still for the portrait. 

As I continued my research of the portrait, I was intrigued to learn that Belknap was born in Ward, Massachusetts, now known as Auburn. A local boy whose inspiration came from our northern neighbors: New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont! 

My husband is from Auburn and my family originated in Maine. Thus, my bonding with the painting came full circle for me at that point. I hope this design reflects my connection with the children and personal ties to the artist’s work. 

C2 designer: Mary Fletcher

Worcester Garden Club  

Ralph Albert Blakelock, The Chase, 1879 

The appeal of working with branches made me decide to create a vertical design (pulling one into the dense forest rather than attempting a horizontal design, in keeping with the oblong painting). Even though I prefer natural, soft tones to bright colors, the muted palette was a challenge; clearly yellow could be included and some white ought to appear as a nod to the horse. Browns and greens will make up the forest’s texture. With so few flowers, the elegance of orchids will have to carry the floral component. 

Though it seems so appropriate for the painting, the container has a narrow-necked opening, leaving an awfully small area on which to build the design. Challenge number two! 

C3 designer: Christine Paxhia

Milton Garden Club 

Attributed to John Samuel Blunt, Frances Motley, about 1830–1833 

When I first saw this painting by John Samuel Blunt, I was immediately drawn to the rich colors and textures. The velvety blue and crimson red popped off the canvas. When you look more closely, you see patterns and little scenes within the scene. When I chose the flowers for this interpretation, I looked for colors that would bring Frances to life. 

My original container was an antique fireplace bucket that would have been perfect for my design. Unfortunately, it leaked, which forced me into changing my container to this pewter one. The pewter mimics the color of the tablecloth. 

C4 designer: Sarah Ribeiro

Worcester Garden Club 

Christo, Double Show Window, 1972 

The Double Show Window, white paint on plexiglass, is by Christo Javacheff. An environmental artist, Christo is world famous for his “wrapping” of monumental buildings, such as the Reichstag in Berlin and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In 1958, Christo started wrapping found objects in fabric and twine, asking the question, “what’s inside?” The query for this design is the same…what’s inside?   

Christo and his wife, Jean-Claude, funded all their gigantic installations by selling his preparatory studies and artwork, such as Double Show Window.

I chose this artwork because I had the armature that was used in 2019 when interpreting the stained-glass window Angel of Resurrection by John La Farge.

This design mimics a wrapped object by using white tulle and twine concealing the bleached love-lies-bleeding. The floral design has no symbolic connection…other than for beauty’s sake.     

C5 designer: Kim Cutler

Worcester Garden Club  

Sneha Shrestha, Devi (Goddess), 2021 

I love the fact that Sneha Shrestha, a Nepali artist, is a storyteller. She chose her colors based on a sari her mother wore at an important Nepali holiday. The calligraphic letters are from an ancient Nepali alphabet and refer to the numbers on forms required to get her a green card to enter the United States.  

My story is simpler. I purchased my brass container in New York City but felt it was too shiny, so I sprayed it matte gold to tone down the shine. Of course, the flowers had to be in the hot pink/red-orange family with a vertical form because there is a subtle upward motion in the painting. Gladiolas were my first thought, but they were out of season, so I sent to Hawaii for colorful tropical flowers with long stems and gentle curved heads. To introduce gold accents (referring to the calligraphy) I worked with a plastics pro. He helped me curl strips of PVC around a pipe using a heat gun. I sprayed the resulting calligraphic strips gold. I also purchased some heavy gold wire to swirl among the flowers. Hopefully, I can get the wire to do what I want it to. 

D1 designer: Sandra Tosches

Greenleaf Garden Club of Milford  

Vassily Kandinsky, Untitled No. 629, 1936  

The abstraction in Kandinsky’s work of art with fantastical forms floating freely in space interacting to produce “inner vibrations of the soul” is the biggest challenge I’ve had in all my years of doing Flora in Winter. I have been fortunate to participate since the second year it was held.

The main challenge to me is to translate such a flat and abstract painting into a 3D floral arrangement that is firmly rooted in oasis, is in a container, and is on a pedestal.

This is my fourth attempt to create the arrangement.

Attempt # 1: 
A single container with wired hanging pieces of oasis covered in flowers. 
This was negated as too difficult to water.

Attempt # 2: 
A multi-tiered stand with trays was just too heavy and static.

Attempt # 3: 
A modern, hand-constructed vase with multiple openings was knocked over and broken. 

Attempt # 4: 
Painted bamboo sticks were discarded in favor of curled plastic forms. 
Multiple containers of various shape and sizes were tried to add depth and floating areas of color. 
Lots of trial with combinations of flowers and colors.

Hopefully the colors of the flowers and placement of this arrangement will evoke your “inner soul vibrations.” 

D2 designer: Kim Devlin-Brytz

Piscataqua Garden Club  

Kay Sage, I Have No Shadow, 1940 

I Have No Shadow by Kay Sage is a painting dominated by very powerful, dark upright lines, pierced asymmetrically with a vivid dagger of light. Sage seemed to have a fondness for architectural elements in her work. In my floral design, I’ll strive to capture not only the sharpness of Sage’s upright lines, but also that intersecting slash of light. Hopefully, the minimalistic plant I chose will reflect the mood of Sage’s work here. 

D3 designer: Rita Cutroni

Belmont Garden Club, Waltham Garden Club, and Sogetsu MA Branch 

Nevena Prijic, Voyager, 2023 

The use of tropical flowers, exotic palm fronds, and manipulated foliage reflects Voyager’s dynamic presentation of color, texture, and abstract fluidity among plants, anatomy, and machines.