Ode in a Grecian Urn

At the Cameron Art Museum’s inaugural “Art of the Bloom” event, the glory of the garden is brought to canvas

By Isabel Zermani   •   Photographs by Mark Steelman

An Ekphrastic poem describes a work of art and in that vivid telling, reveals and amplifies its soul. Art begetting art. From the Greek word “Ekphrasis” meaning “description,” this tradition was born ages ago, but who would’ve ever thought to describe in flowers? 

The newly minted New Hanover Garden Club (NHGC) recently teamed up with the Cameron Art Museum to host the first annual “Art of the Bloom” mini-festival at the Blockade Runner. Floral designers interpreted works of art (paintings, lithographs, sculptures) chosen by blind draw from the Cameron’s vault for a competition. A group of “Designing Divas,” nationally accredited garden club judges from Florida, assessed the entries. 

This inaugural event was modeled after the annual “Art in Bloom” at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, begun in 1976. Ten years ago, the North Carolina Museum of Art began a similar annual program. This year, the “Art of the Bloom” hosts felt it was time to launch their own event closer to home, recruiting more than 20 southeastern North Carolina garden clubs and newcomers alike to participate.

Marge Comer of the Coastal Garden Club in Ocean Isle Beach interpreted Wilmington treasure Elisabeth Chant’s “Ancient Ko Su Coat,” an oil on canvas still life with a coat from the Ming dynasty. Comer created an Ikebana-inspired design with peach roses mimicking the effortless drape of Chant’s fabric. 

Sharon Van Teyens of the NHGC, a first timer to this sport, won first place for her design of David Storey’s “Untitled,” an abstract charcoal on paper, a gift from former Wilmington resident, the actress Linda Lavin. Van Teyens explored the tension of the piece by juxtaposing the curve of calla lilies to linear bamboo and metallic rectangles.

Another newcomer, Brittney Wells of Verazzls Florist and Events in Wilmington, received the “Best in Show” award for her interpretation of North Carolina artist Romare Bearden’s lithograph “The Conversation.” Inspired not only by the African patterns on the figure’s clothing, Wells was moved by the subject, the African-American struggle for freedom, and designed her arrangement with tightly wrapped willow branches opening up to birds of paradise to symbolize that journey. 

A sculpture in its own right, Patti Jacaruso and Kathy Gresham of the Harbor Island Garden Club of Wrightsville Beach used a piece of driftwood and metallic orb to support a trailing orchid to interpret the textures in Will Henry Stevens’ “Untitled” abstract oil on canvas.

Local painter Dick Roberts deviated — just slightly — from abstraction in his oil on canvas “Passing Through” with a black chicken emerging in the paint. Barb Bittler of NHGC combined a color-coordinated flower arrangement with a chicken sculpture, equally as tongue-in-cheek.

Not every arrangement arrived in a vase. Ricky Kornegay of Mount Olive recreated “Untitled (head of a woman),” an expressive portrait by Steffen Thomas, in a giant mask of mums, carnations and black miscanthus grass mimicking the artist’s dark dividing lines. 

Isabel Zermani, our senior editor, prefers the storied life and the bearded iris.

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