Art Blooms at the Walters by Benjamin Pierce
After 25 years of Art Blooms at the Walters, the Women’s Committee of the Walters Art Museum debuted a scaled-back version of the event. Faced with the challenge of reinventing the flower show, the Committee carefully shifted the event in a new direction. “It was a wonderful process to think differently about how to develop an event that combines art and flowers.” Women’s Committee Chair Kathy Phillips tells me.
The new plan is to have “A Spring Day” each with a theme based on a differing location chosen from around the world, and inviting a floral designer with knowledge of the theme to come lecture and demonstrate. This was the first event of the new flower show at the Walter’s, “A Spring Day in Paris.”
The floral designer was Laura Dowling, a French floral design expert, and notably the White House florist for the past 6 years, soon to be author and former businesswoman.
The event was held in the auditorium, with the option for a lunch in the museum after. Tables covered with bunches of flowers were set on the stage, with finished bouquets flanking each side. Even from the balcony, the flowers looked like a frozen explosion of vines and petals, carefully arranged with rich textures and colors.
Ms. Dowling walked to the stage with her delicate, debutante looking assistant, who Ms. Dowling revealed is a former Army Captain with a PhD in Clinical Psychology.
She first addressed her departure from the White House, saying, “There are a lot of rumors as to why I left the White House,” when the projection switched to headlines about her feuding with Michelle Obama projected behind her. She dispelled any issues with the First Lady. She held her sense of humor throughout the demonstration, engaging the crowd with flowers and a few funny anecdotes.
Her ability to speak and arrange simultaneously was intriguing. She lectured the crowd on the French style of flower arranging, then picked up a cabbage, noting cabbage is a great way to start a Chanel-style bouquet. As she was talking to the audience, her lecture a mix of practical explanation and personal stories, the cabbage would spin in her right hand—her left picking up plant material to add. After about five minutes of building the bouquet, she tilted the finished one towards the audience. Everyone gasped. Each flower and leaf dangled in compliment to one another, the white not overpowering the green, a true testament to her professionalism.
Ms. Dowling and her assistant spent a good deal of time discussing the various projects they did in the White House—from the vegetable Olympic torch to topiary dogs. Her first event for the White House was the 2009 state dinner, made famous by the celebrity party crashers.
Ms. Phillips mentioned, “We hoped to market to those who have attended our events in the past, local garden clubs and anyone interested in floral design and art.” I do not apply to any of those categories, but I was amused. While flower arranging may not engage all, it did give me more respect for florists. It is a type of sculpture that decays, but also brings you closer to a man-made ideal of nature. While Ms. Dowling did not address this idea of impermanence in her work and the genre, she did mention covering a vestibule with petals. The downside of this is that it only lasts for a day, but that’s the French ethos, Ms. Dowling noted, “You only need it for the dinner party.”
Women’s Committee Event: A Spring Day in Paris Lecture and Luncheon
April 17th, 2015