Every flower tells a story in ‘Blooming Art Show’


For those whose exposure to flower arrangement is limited to ordering from 1-800-FLOWERS, last weekend’s “Blooming Art Show” would have proven an eye opener.

Every summer, the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club hosts one of the Island’s most original art exhibits. “Blooming Art” pairs Vineyard artists with Garden Club members to interpret a variety of works of art in botanicals. This year 36 artists and a corresponding number of arrangers took part, filling the historic Old Mill building in West Tisbury with vivid color as well as living beauty. The show is a great opportunity for attendees to appreciate the static as well as the organic in art, and attracted close to 200 visitors over the course of the exhibit’s four days.

The work ranged from painting and photography to sculpture and glass work. The arrangements were equally diverse. Some arrangers, like Mary Ann Dolezsar, took a somewhat literal approach to their interpretations. Dolezsar was given a large hand-decorated glass vase by Washington Ledesma to interpret botanically. She used colorful bird of paradise flowers to represent the repeating bird pattern on the vase, and invented her own flower — inserting a small craspedia bloom inside each of a handful of chrysanthemums to emulate the bull’s-eye pattern on the vase. Mixing the natural and the imaginary is a trademark of Ledesma’s work, and the arrangement captured his style very well.

Others had to really stretch their imagination. Robin Moriarty drew on the bright orange beak of the oystercatcher in Joan Apt’s charming painting as the focal point of her arrangement. A couple of vivid poppies added a pop of color to a minimalist arrangement of wildflowers and grasses — perfect for representing the spare, wild beauty of the Vineyard landscape.

Cynthia Bloomquist also chose raw nature as inspiration. It was probably no coincidence that she was paired with her partner Thaw Malin, and the match proved a very good one. Malin’s lovely oil painting of Squibnocket inspired Bloomquist to collect beach stones, driftwood, and shells around their home to complement her arrangement. “Thaw and I have the same color palette that we like,” says Bloomquist, who is a talented painter in her own right.

The Garden Club members are paired randomly with the artists, so they never know what type of challenge they will be faced with until they are provided with a photo of their artwork inspiration about three weeks before the show.

Wiet Bacheller takes the process one step further, by viewing the actual piece before she begins the process. Five years ago, she assisted with an arrangement for the Museum of Fine Art’s “Art in Bloom” show, one of the inspirations for the Martha’s Vineyard show. “I learned a lot from that experience,” she says. “They require you to visit the work. It’s really helpful. You get a photograph, but the color is often not the same. If I didn’t visit the real picture, I would not have seen the greens in there.”

Bacheller is referring to the colors in her assigned piece — a close-up of the underside of a sunflower by Joann Frechette. The enigmatic shot shows a very different view of the flower, and Bacheller picked up on the pattern with her arrangement. “I had to go completely out of the box and find stripes,” she says. She used a variety of tropical flowers and plants, seeking foliage with dark, highly contrasting stripes. “She nailed it,” says Frechette.

One of the most challenging pieces proved to be a large cast bronze sculpture of a turtle by Jay Langemann. Rather than attempt to draw solely on the color (brown) or the shape (turtleish), arrangers Margaret Gallagher and Leah Smith chose instead to create a home for the aquatic critter, using beach stones, grasses, thistles, and other marshy elements.

Some arrangers chose to simply capture the feeling of the artwork. Barbara Watts artfully placed a few bamboo stems and thistles in a shallow container to evoke the scene in Ed Schulman’s “Japanese Fishing Village,” adding a couple of roses to mirror the orange of the painting’s boats.

Gay Smith found her pairing — a seaweed collage by Kathy Poehler — to be a perfect fit for her personality. “I love her whimsy,” she says. “That’s who I am.”

Garden Club president Kathy Kitsock explains the unique appeal of the show: “One of the artists was saying to me that most people go to a museum and look at a painting for about five seconds. Here, there’s so much interplay going on between the art and the flowers that people are really taking their time to examine each of the elements.”

The proceeds from the sale of the artwork (split between the artists and the club) will all go toward the organization’s various initiatives — preserving the Old Mill building, an annual scholarship, and a grants program for educators focusing on conservation, landscaping, and horticulture.