It took Sara Bagley and friends some cajoling to convince John and Mable Ringing Museum’s Associate Curator of Education Maureen Zaremba to create the first Ringing in Bloom event three years ago. The event that brings large-scale floral designs inspired by works of fine art in the museum isn’t the only one in the country. In fact, in 1976, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts hosted the first event of its kind.
As the saying goes, the third time is a charm, and the planners have gotten the annual event down to a science. Bagley collected the designers, stemming from the entire Gulf Coast of Florida, as she met them from area garden clubs, Sarasota Garden Club and Founders Garden Club, as well as floral-designing group Floralia 16, national conventions and flower shows. And many who participate return for the next year’s event.
Aside from encouragement to buy local flowers and the museum’s reasonable strictness about no dripping pots, there aren’t any parameters that the designers must follow.
“That’s what’s fun about it!” Bagley says. “If you’re in a flower show that’s judged, you have to follow the rules. We decided not to have this judged so we could give them freedom.”
Late last summer each of the 30 designers was given a list of possible paintings and sculptures they could choose as their muse. Bagley finds it funny that some paintings are selected every year, such as “Harlequin Series” and “The Sisters.”
The muse selection process is different for every designer.
“Some people research the story; the colors may stand out or other components or elements; or an architectural or emotional reaction can stimulate you and direct you in deciding what and how you’re going to create,” says Betty Call, a participant since the first year.
Once the piece is selected, the designers have about seven months to conceptualize their ideas, and when it’s time to begin arranging, there are many different approaches.
“I start with the flowers, and when they’re all gone, I’m finished,” says Josie Northrup, also a participant since the first year.
Like Josie Northrup, Becca McFadden has a similar play-it-by-ear approach. She suggests that most designers plan their works: “Everyone I know, especially in my garden club, practices ahead of time. They know down to a tee what they are doing. They take pictures of it — and I’m like the whirling dervish that ends up however it lands.”
Regardless of approach, floral design is as much fine art as the paintings that inspire them.
“It’s creative,” Chris Dermody says. This is her third year as a participant. “It has to have line, depth, form, (color, composition, scale, balance) — things you’d look for in any other artform.”
Years participated: Three
Selected work: “Salome” by Robert Henri
Why this one? She just looked rather exotic to me, and I found that challenging and interesting.
Competitive edge: About 40 flowers, sago palms and a little bling in a handmade container that will reach 4 to 5 feet tall.
Floral-design background: A little more than a decade ago, I was working too much (at a manufacturing company of a coin-operated amusement games) and needed an outlet. I’ve learned it all through Garden Club classes.
Favorite flower: Gardenia; I love the smell of them.
Years participated: Two at Ringling Museum (20 at similar events)
Selected work: “Tobias Leaving his Parents” by Nicolas Tournier
Why this one? The emotion of the four people in the painting is what I’m, hopefully, going to capture.
Competitive edge: Home-grown flowers and additional flowers in four separate containers, each with different flowers and a secret element tying them all together.
Floral-design background: (I did it) as a child. And I ran a floral studio (“The Floral Touch”) in Massachusetts for more than 20 years. I’m also a national flower show judge.
Favorite flower: Anything that smells good.
Years participated: Two
Selected work: “Engelberta van Brienen” by Nicolaes Maes
Why this one? I liked the angle of her dress. There’s a lot you can do with that burgundy color.
Competitive edge: A pot that matches the frame of the work.
Floral-design background: My mother used to do floral design. I worked in a florist shop for six or seven years in Rochester, N.Y.
Favorite flower: Lilies and peonies
Alice LaFollette and Josie Northrup
Years participated: Three
Selected work: One floral arrangement inspired by all of Gallery 1
Why this one? We decided to do it together. Josie has done it before, so when they asked me to do it, I said we would. It’s a big arrangement!
Competitive edge: Twenty different varieties of flowers spanning 4 feet in diameter
Floral-design background: LaFollette: “I’m a retired judge in the Garden Club of America. My mother was a floral judge.” Northrup: “I can’t really say, but it was sometime in the ’90s when I joined Founders Garden Club.”
Favorite flower: LaFollette says roses and liles; Northrup says roses.
Years participated: Three
Selected work: “Plowing in Nivernais” by Rosa Bonheur
Why this one? I liked the upturned earth; I liked the dirt.
Competitive edge: I found a large rusting piece of a construction auger; taking as much time as they give to make a funky design. I’ll bring the kitchen sink with me, literally. I will take buckets and buckets of flowers that maybe I’ll use and maybe I won’t.
Floral-designing background: I bought my (plant leasing and fresh floral design) business 15 years ago, “Quality Foliage,” and prior to that I had no floral-design experience, so I had to hit the ground running. And my mother-in-law, Sally McFadden, who does floral design, got me involved with Founders Garden Club.
Favorite flower: Anthurium
Years participated: Two
Selected work: “Walking Woman” by Alexander Archipenko
Why this one? The simplicity. I had seen her two years ago, and I knew then what I would put in it, and that’s what I’m using.
Competitive edge: Palm spathe painted bronze and seven protea spanning about 36 inches tall
Floral-design background: I’ve been in the Sarasota Garden Club since 1982, and before that I worked in my late sister Margaret Broom’s florist shop, “The Green Tree Garden Center,” in St. Albans, W. Va. And, before that, cutting flowers from the garden as a child.
Favorite flower: Orchid
If You Go:
Ringing in Bloom
A four-day celebration of flowers and fine art.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 through Saturday, March 3
Where: The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota
Cost: $25 for adults; $25 for seniors; $5 for students 18 and older and children 6 to 17; $10 for teachers and active duty military; free for members and children under 6.
Info: Call 359-5700, or see Ringing.org/inbloom for full schedule of programs.
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