Floral designer exhibits at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

“I feel honored and privileged to have the chance to design without rules, except for the strict parameters the museum puts on your interpretation, including height, width, all fresh one-inch commercially grown materials, just to name a few,” Owen said. “And you must do the design onsite within a specific time frame. They actually measure your arrangement and if it’s too wide or tall they just cut it off. There’s just a little pressure to meet the challenge…with all the exceptionally talented designers that are doing their best work. You try hard to represent your community well.”

Owen described how she creates her floral arrangements and the choices she makes based on the fine art piece she is given to interpret. She was given Ibala leSindebele (Ndebele Design) by artist Esther Mahlangu. The museum commissioned Mahlangu to create the nine- by 15-foot African murals back in 2014.
“The mural that was painted onsite by the artist, it’s huge at the entrance of the African art gallery,” Owen said. “The colors are magnificent, but the colors weren’t all friendly to the colors of nature and that was a challenge.”

Owen explained the steps that a floral designer takes to create her vision.

“When the parameters of your design are defined…how to downsize was the question,” she said. “You are looking to interpret, not literally duplicate. Floral design is a process that is an expression of beauty through the use of flowers and foliage to create an image that only you have in your head. From the colors you select the flowers and foliage, then your placement creates the design.”

Owen had to write interpretive remarks for the museum based on her subject. Her remarks not only define her vision but that of Mahlangu. Trying to define another artist’s work in a different medium would be a challenge but it becomes a testimony to both artists, especially in how Owen sees the beauty in Mahlangu’s work.

“The sheer scale of this piece of art and its vibrancy drew me to want to interpret its beauty,” she said. Mahlangu, not a young woman, climbed scaffolding to complete the painting with intense precision. “Having visited Africa, I appreciate the culture and the people’s desire for their art to exude color in a sometimes rather bleak world. The work is one dimensional, but its power is transmitted through the use of symmetry and color,” Owen said.

She explained that the colors are represented through a varied selection of flowers, including  roses, status, delphinium, carnations, aspidistra leaves and lilies.  “The flowers work to develop the shape and forms present, and in an attempt to capture the mood, a container within a frame was created to represent the strong lines and symmetry,” she said. “This was designed to define the brilliant colors within their boundaries.”

The FAA members who saw the exhibit said that when the next one returns, they will most likely go again for the experience.

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