Our summer wardrobes were only in retirement for the blink of an eye, making it difficult to tell whether or not winter actually came to Sarasota at all this year. Spring, however, has clearly begun to blossom, and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art’s 2nd annual Ringling in Bloom festival served as a delightful welcoming committee.
The four-day festival was a vibrant celebration of fine art, flowers and fashion—with a definite emphasis on the floral aspect.
The event kicked off on Thursday with an after-hours Designer Preview of Art in Bloom, which is modeled after the event of the same name initiated by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 1976.
For Art in Bloom, 26 floral designers representing local garden clubs between St. Petersburg and Fort Myers—and one from Akron, Ohio—worked individually or in teams of two or three to create a flower arrangement complementary to an artwork of their choosing throughout the 21 galleries of the museum’s permanent collection.
With tickets selling at $85 apiece ($75 for museum members), those who attended the Designer Preview got an intimate first look at the floral arrangements, which would remain on display in the main galleries throughout the weekend.
The floral designers were present during the preview to discuss the inspiration behind their creative works; as were museum docents, who provided historical insights about the works of fine art upon which the flower arrangements were based.
“You take a walk through the galleries until you find the right one,” said designer Sara Bagley, whose vibrant floral creation was inspired by the 1770 Jean Baptiste Pillement nautical scene, A Harbor.
“One thing in the painting just strikes your fancy and you go with it,” she said while showing her autumnal arrangement, which was closely modeled after the ship that prominently dominates A Harbor’s picture plane.
The flower arrangements throughout the gallery were as diverse in style as the paintings.
The bushy, towering centerpiece by Josie Northrup, Harriett Steiff and Lee Murphy was a magnificent and assertive explosion of pink lilies and yellow roses that commanded attention, despite being dwarfed in size by Rubens’ Eucharist series cartoons that dominate the wall space in the gallery.
Mere galleries away, designer Melinda Earle created a much more minimalist arrangement of Bird of Paradise flowers and cinnamon sticks in a very linear composition that played on the concepts of symmetry and negative space, so as to complement the principles of perspective and crisp architectural geometry emphasized in the “building block design” of Piere di Cosimo’s 1520 painting, The Building of a Palace.
In addition to the contributions from garden club floral enthusiasts, four professional florists joined Ringling in Bloom in its sophomore year, creating large-scale floral masterpieces inspired by the fountains in the museum’s loggia, where Design Preview guests sipped cocktails and enjoyed hors d’oeuvres on Thursday evening.
Ringling in Bloom continued on Friday, when Dutch Master Florist Remco Van Vliet hosted a series of hands-on demonstrations at the Historic Asolo Theatre. As a Master Florist, Van Vliet holds the highest distinction in the floral industry and his clients include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the MoMA and the Whitney Museum, as well as the New York Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall. Additionally, he has been a featured guest on The Martha Stewart Show.
On Saturday, Ringling in Bloom hosted its next event, Fashion, Flowers and Food: Lilly Pulitzer, a fashion event featuring wearable floral art in the museum courtyard. The highlight of the event was a preview of the Lilly Pulitzer Spring Collection, in which each of the original designer prints were inspired by flowers. The event also included a silent auction with unique items such as a hand-painted door inspired by Lilly Pulitzer’s own door in Palm Beach.
On Sunday, Van Vliet returned to the museum to close out the Ringling in Bloom festival with a series of floral arrangement workshops which took place in the Johnson-Blalock Education Center. Each workshop included a brief introduction to the art of floral arrangement, coupled with a one-on-one tutorial in which Van Vliet walked his students through the design and creation of a specific arrangement.
While the pollen in the air serves as a reminder for many of us to stock up on Claritin for the upcoming months, Ringling in Bloom breezed through Sarasota to remind us of the finer details of the season. It gave us the opportunity to stop and smell the roses—quite literally—long enough to momentarily bask in the beauty born from a harmonious collaboration between the art of nature and man.
For the second year in a row, Ringling’s Art in Bloom succeeded in breathing a delightfully-scented burst of fresh air into the galleries filled with centuries-old masterpieces, while the accompanying fashion show and demonstrations emphasized the museum’s growing flair for the contemporary.
How sweet it is, the scent of art in bloom in Sarasota.