Plan to stop, smell the roses, and enjoy great art at a fresh spring event coming this April to Carnegie Museum of Art.
By Meghan Holohan
Not long after the daffodils poke through the earth, setting Pittsburgh aglow, spring will take root at Carnegie Museum of Art during a three-day event that will fuse fresh flowers and high art.
Art in Bloom, the latest creation of the Women’s Committee of Carnegie Museum of Art, challenges regional garden clubs, non-profits, and a select group of individuals to design floral arrangements inspired by works of art in the museum’s permanent collection. The designers were randomly assigned an artwork and given six weeks to create their masterpieces. On April 16-18, the arrangements will be shown alongside the objects that inspired them in the museum’s Scaife Galleries.
The idea blossomed from the hope that this fresh approach would provide new learning experiences for even the most savvy museum patron.
“For a garden club to interpret a piece of art through a flower arrangement and for that arrangement to then be displayed next to the art in the gallery, this helps you look at the artwork in a totally different way and appreciate it even more for nuances you might have missed,” says Ranny Ferguson, past president of the Women’s Committee and co-chair of Art in Bloom. “It’s a way of seeing the work through new eyes.”
Although this is a first-ever event for Pittsburgh, Art in Bloom has for years been helping art museums across the country herald the arrival of spring and raise money. The first sprouted roots in 1976 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which continues the tradition today. The fundraiser grew in popularity over the past decade, and is now a staple event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, to name a few. It’s typically a three- or four-day event, lest the colorful palette of petals start to fade.
Jason T. Busch, The Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts at Carnegie Museum of Art, spent six years at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where their version of the event was a huge public draw and lucrative fundraiser for the museum.
“It’s great for the Women’s Committee to make historic change at the museum through implementing this fundraiser,” says Busch, who, along with fellow curators, has partnered with the Women’s Committee to bring the event to life. “Art in Bloom is a way of demonstrating dialogues between art in different media. You look at something alive and compare it to a two- or three-dimensional work. Through the process, one is able to draw many comparisons. It’s a really creative way to look at the collection.”
Selecting the artwork to serve as inspiration wasn’t as simple as choosing favorites from the collection, says Jennifer Muse, Women’s Committee member and co-chair of the event. Claude Monet’s Nympheas (Water Lilies) is a piece both Muse and Ferguson enjoy, but it didn’t make the cut. They were careful to avoid artwork that exclusively includes flora because they didn’t want participants “to simply re-create bouquets of flowers.”
Perhaps the fresh flowers will mirror the colors in a canvas or mimic the shape of a piece of glass, explains Muse. What the committee tried not to do was impose artistic standards, although there are certainly material restrictions in place to protect the art; no moss or dirt in the arrangements, please.
The design of the exhibition also influenced what they chose. “We were considering the space because we didn’t want all of the flower arrangements to be on one side of a gallery or in a single space,” says Muse. “We tried for a cross-section of art—chairs, glass, sculpture, and ceramics, in addition to paintings.”
Among the clubs that will be inspired by those works of art: Seeders and Weeders Garden Club, the Window Box Garden Club, the Garden Club of Allegheny County, the Fox Chapel Garden Club, the Garden Club of McKeesport, Pucketos Garden Club, and the Perennial Garden Club. A select number of commercial florists have also been invited to participate by displaying arrangements in the public spaces of the museum’s ground floor.
Alice Snyder, a member of the Garden Club of Allegheny County, is charged with creating the floral arrangement for her group. While she’s never participated in an Art in Bloom event, she’s an experienced designer with exhibition and other design challenges under her belt.
“Our club is thrilled to be a part of this,” says Snyder, who had yet to learn which artwork she would be assigned. “It is a delight to work with the museum and with the Women’s Committee. Art in Bloom has been a successful fundraiser at other museums, so we’re glad to help.”
There’s a bouquet of activities planned around the exhibition: a preview gala on April 16, a luncheon and demonstration by renowned floral designer Ron Morgan, author of In the Company of Flowers, on April 17, followed by a more casual party dubbed “Cocktails Go Green” that same evening. April 18 will feature floral-themed activities for children and families. The exhibition is included in the cost of admission to the museum.
“Our goal is always to encourage people to come in and feel very comfortable with the art,” says Ferguson. “We hope that this is a learning experience that makes visitors want to come back and continue participating in their museum.”