will truly come alive today when the Museum of Fine Arts opens its annual "Art in Bloom" exhibit that pairs paintings and other works of art with live floral interpretations.
Now in its 12th year, the event will be the museum's largest with the opening last month of the Hazel Hough Wing, which expanded the art collection.
More than 50 professional floral designers, garden club-affiliated arrangers and garden hobbyists have created unique floral arrangements — works of art in their own right — that imaginatively interpret and capture the spirit of the museum's collection, which includes works by Monet, Gauguin, Renoir, Cezanne, Rodin and O'Keeffe.
St. Petersburg's exhibit is one of numerous springtime "Art in Bloom" events held at museums across the country, including Boston's Museum of Fine Arts where the first event pairing fine art with flowers was held more than 30 years ago. St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts, in cooperation with the Stuart Society women's auxiliary, held its first event in 1997.
Interpreting fine art with flowers doesn't necessarily mean duplication. While some arrangements may look strikingly similar to their paired works of art, others may only slightly resemble the source of inspiration. That is, after all, the true definition of art itself — self-expression. A work of art can mean something different for everyone.
Take the museum's Claude Monet Parliament, Effect of Fog painted about 1904, for example. This impressionist masterpiece depicts London's Houses of Parliament and the River Thames in a thick veil of blue fog. Some people immediately think of blue hydrangea, but what about blue plumbago, blue-hued hybrid hibiscus or the light blue and lavender vanda orchid that's in glorious bloom in my garden right now? Everyone sees art differently.
Floral artists insist that each flower has its own personality based on its color, size, stance and texture. Interpreting art with flowers is a study in color, shape, texture, movement and mood. Think happy and you might picture a sunflower or daisy. Think sad and images of a dark-colored flower, perhaps a black dahlia or iris, come to mind. Or maybe not.
Ikebana floral master Jeanne Houlton of St. Petersburg thinks of mystery and romance when she looks at Indian Maid Embracing Brave (W. Seaman, 1840), the oil painting she has interpreted through Ikebana, the Japanese art of formal flower arrangement that emphasizes balance, harmony and form. "The lines of the tree branches look mysterious," she says. "There are a lot of vertical lines, and the colors are red, yellow and dark-colored neutrals."
This is Houlton's 11th floral display at Art in Bloom, and she has fine-tuned her approach to the challenge. "You need to study the color, the shape of the art, the lines, the mood, the texture, the movement and the size. Then you have to find a vase and flowers," said Houlton, a certified Ikebana teacher and president of the Florida Chapter of the Ichiyo School of Ikebana.
One of the biggest challenges the show's floral designers face is finding the flowers they want, when they want them. Most don't complete their arrangements until the day before the opening. "You can have many flowers in mind, but the last thing you do is buy the flower because it has to last" for five days, Houlton says. "You're always improvising with the flowers because your dream might not come true."
Many of the museum's works of art are hundreds, even thousands, of years old and are preserved for years of viewing. By its very nature, the vibrant floral artistry of "Art in Bloom," however, is destined to fade in just a few short days.
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.