Art in bloom: Volunteers trimming a million flowers for Cummer show
July 23, 2021
Snip, snip, snip and, like that, one baby's breath flower becomes four or five.
Stems go into a waste can for later composting. Flowers are scooped up by the armful and taken from the trimming table at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens to the next table, where volunteers measure out double-armlengths of copper wire and meticulously tie the blooms in place with more wire. They've been at it for nine days, working with different flowers each day — delphinium, roses, eucalyptus, hydrangea, birds of paradise, yarrow, pink larkspur, strawflowers, golden asters, statice and sunflowers.
The five-foot garlands are hung on a rack and wheeled into the exhibition hall, where yet another group of volunteers strings them together into much longer flower chains. They're then handed to artist Rebecca Louise Law, who hangs them from the ceiling, creating 18-foot tall curtains of dried flowers. Law's exhibition, "The Journey," will include millions of flowers — a thousand stems of each type, many of them divided into multiple flowers — when it opens July 30.
Law sent a list of her preferred flowers to the museum, which worked through Jacksonville's Kuhn Flowers to procure them. Some of the sunflowers in the show are locally grown, but others came from far-flung places. The flowers arrived fresh but will slowly dry during the show's five-month stay at the Cummer. As petals and dust fall to the floor, they'll be swept up and saved by Law, who will use them again in another show at another museum. That's how it is with Law, who saves everything. "We are composting what we can compost," said Holly Keris, chief curator at the museum. "We are sweeping up the dust. We are doing everything as sustainably as possible."
It takes an army of volunteers to prepare for Law's show, far more than the Cummer has ever needed before. "We have never had volunteers on this scale," Keris said. "The volunteer slots filled up really quickly, which was fantastic." They came from the museum's staff, board and trustees, from the Garden Club of Jacksonville, even from a summer school class. Ten to 17 volunteers at a time have been working two shifts a day, trimming and stringing flowers and running racks of garlands from one room to the next. Keris said she took about 12,000 steps working as a runner one day. But she did learn a thing or two. "I can stake a mean delphinium and can export a bird of paradise from its shell," she said.
And not just any flower will work. Law has spent years figuring out what will dry well and what will last. "Some people paint in acrylic," Keris said. "She paints in flowers." The smell of baby's breath was a bit overpowering as the volunteers worked, but Keris said that won't be the case with the finished show. It'll still be fragrant, she said, but "not really floral-y."
Some of the dried flowers in the Cummer show have been at the museum since before the pandemic. Law wrapped up a previous show in Grand Rapids, Mich., in early 2020 and had some of the materials sent to the Cummer so she didn't have to ship them back to her home in Great Britain. The museum paid for the fresh flowers in the show. Keris declined to say how much they spent on the flowers, but said all art shows come with setup costs and this one wasn't out of line.
Source: Tom Szaroleta - Florida Times-Union