Wellesley garden clubs crop up like weeds at MFA Art in Bloom

Once again, the Museum of Fine Arts invited garden clubs and professional designers from across New England to create floral arrangements for the always-anticipated Art in Bloom exhibit. This year I was one of a team of two representing the Wellesley Gardeners’ Guild, talked into it the way I’m usually talked into such things — by a sweet-talking friend who has done a million and one things for me who I just can’t say no to.

Before I knew it, one nerve-wracking day in March my design partner and I found ourselves in a lecture hall at the MFA with representatives from over 50 garden clubs from across the land, waiting to find out what work of art would be assigned to us. We were handed our envelope. Hands shaking, I opened it. Our object: Three ornate silver sugar boxes, circa 1680. Sweet.

We weren’t the only Wellesley garden club people there. The following clubs signed on: The Hills Garden Club of Wellesley represented by Cynthia Ballantyne and Amy Murphy; The Wellesley Garden Club, represented by Barbara Charlton and Joan Clipstone; and the Wellesley Garden Study Group represented by Cathy Broderick and Pam Breitfelder; joined Joan Minklei and myself, who represented the Wellesley Gardeners’ Guild.

Here are the pictures to prove it:


Art in Bloom, Hills Garden Club of Wellesley
Mrs. Billington as St. Cecelia, by George Romney, as interpreted by Cynthia Ballantyne and Amy Murphy of The Hills Garden Club of Wellesley. Absolutely gorgeous.

The Pan Painter, mixing bowl, as interpreted by Barbara Charlton and Joan Clipstone of The Wellesley Garden Club.
The Pan Painter, mixing bowl, as interpreted by Barbara Charlton and Joan Clipstone of The Wellesley Garden Club. The arrangement immediately caught your attention as the only spot of color in a gallery of neutral-colored stone and pottery objects.

Art in Bloom, Wellesley Garden Study Group
The painting is Drummer Boy, by Winslow Homer…

Here is the interpretation of Drummer Boy, by Cathy Broderick and Pam Breitfelder.
…and here is the interpretation of Drummer Boy, by Cathy Broderick and Pam Breitfelder of The Wellesley Garden Study Group. It looks good enough to eat and couldn’t be more patriotic or pitch-perfect.

Art in Bloom, Wellesley Gardeners' Guild
My car all loaded up at 5:30am for the big trip into the MFA to assemble our arrangement. The museum allowed us from 6:30am – 9:15am to get it done, and not a minute more.

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Joan Minklei, ready to roll our materials into the MFA for assembling. One enterprising club brought their arrangement to the museum fully formed. They then showed up in front of their assigned work of art, plunked their arrangement onto its pedestal, and made their way to the arrangers’ brunch. Brilliant.


Art in Bloom, Wellesley Gardeners' Guild
Here is the object we were tasked with interpreting: Three sugar bowls, circa 1680. Sweet.


Art in Bloom, Wellesley Gardeners Guild
Here is our arrangement, fully formed. Where did the three gentlemen come from all of a sudden? They are part of the gallery we were assigned to. Although not technically our assigned work of art, which is just to the left of our arrangement (cropped out), their fancy velvet jackets did inform our color choices.

Putting together an Art in Bloom arrangement is a bit like putting together a Swellesley post. A post gets done one word at a time until I say “good enough” and move on with my life, as my editor advises. With an Art in Bloom arrangement, it was a matter of  arranging one flower at a time. We tweaked this. We moved that. We looked it over and removed what didn’t work, and added a bloom or two. Eventually, we had to stop obsessing over it and move on with our lives. Easier said than done, but the MFA’s deadlines helped, and our mock-up, which we put together last month, gave us confidence.

Each exhibiting group had to write up its interpretation to let visitors in on their artistic vision. Ours read, “The utility of our object — sugar boxes — led us to think about how sugar got into the parlors of the English colonies. Through the vessel and plant material we chose, we wished to juxtapose the parlor of the 1700s and its veneer of gentility with the sugar plantations, which operated mostly by black slave labor at great human cost. We chose the boat-shaped container to evoke the ocean, which was the sole transportation route to get the sugar to the English colonies. The three calla lilies symbolize the triangle trade, while the Birds of Paradise symbolize the Carribean.”

Now that the exhibition is almost over (you can see it until 5pm today), I have people to thank. Thanks Wellesley Gardeners’ Guild, you were our patrons who lent enormous emotional support, granted us complete artistic freedom, and who paid for all that floral abundance. You were saints for putting up with our endless chatter about Art in Bloom this and Art in Bloom that. And I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with that kind of talk forever and anon, as Joan and I have become adept at circling every conversation around to the topic of Art in Bloom. Now that the exhibit is over, we’ll have to take a different conversational approach. I envision all gardening talk for the rest of my days going along the lines of, “Now back when I did Art in Bloom…”

Art in Bloom is now officially a part of my life narrative. Yup, I’m putting it on my resume. It’ll be a part of my Linked-In profile. It’s already on my Facebook wall. I’ve written about it in my journal. And if it doesn’t make it into my obituary (in what I hope is the distant future), there will be consequences in the form of a haunting.

Thanks also to pedestal sponsors Anderson’s Jewelers of Wellesley, and a big thank you to the MFA and all the volunteer MFA Associates who escorted us wherever we needed to go in the museum during off-hours and made positive reinforcement and general good cheer their main missions. It was a great experience, and I can’t wait to see who will accept the passing of the clippers and and put together next year’s arrangement.


Art in Bloom, Wellesley Gardeners Guild
Wellesley Gardeners Guild arrangers Deborah Brown, left, and Joan Minklei, right. Joan, I still say the gentleman in the yellow velvet jacket is totally checking you out.