On Friday, 50 garden clubs from around New England will make their way to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston -- hours before visitors are allowed in — each bringing a piece of art to life using flowers. “Art in Bloom,” now in its 41st year, gives clubs the challenge of creating floral arrangements that interpret and complement some of the MFA’s iconic works.
Prior to the early morning assembly, countless hours have already been clocked by garden club members and museum volunteers who have been getting ready for the three-day show.
Susan O’Brien, this year’s “Art in Bloom” chair, has been preparing for over a year now. She knew what she was getting into, seeing as she has been working as an MFA museum associate for several years before accepting the two-year commitment to oversee “Art in Bloom.”
O’Brien has spent the last year shadowing her predecessor and working with museum associates — volunteers who make “Art in Bloom” possible — to select the art pieces and garden clubs. After 50 garden clubs were selected from all over New England, they were introduced to their work of art at the end of February.
Eventually, 50 artifacts were chosen. Some pieces that made the cut this year include Frida Kahlo’s “Dos Mujeres (Salvadora y Herminia),” Thomas Sully’s “The Passage of the Delaware,” a Jackson Pollock bowl, and a mummy case.
“We select the objects intentionally to draw people throughout the museum to galleries everywhere in the museum,” O’Brien said. “We also select objects intentionally to give the visitor a variety of types of art to look at.”
As soon as a garden club is assigned an object, they brainstorm, plan, and scope out the best flowers and plant materials at the New England Flower Exchange.
Pat Riccardi, owner of Riccardi Wholesale Flowers, has been working with garden clubs for 20 years to provide them flowers for the arrangements they dream up for in “Art in Bloom.” Riccardi Wholesale Flowers is just one of 10 florists operating in the New England Flower Exchange, the exclusive sellers to garden clubs that participate in “Art in Bloom.”
Even though the New England Flower Exchange sells to a local demographic, the flowers arrive at Chelsea floral exchange from all over the world. Riccardi works with growers who ship flowers from Colombia, California, Holland, and Italy, by a preserving method called cold chain. The process keeps the flowers in boxes that either have cold air pushed into them if traveling by plane, or are transported in refrigerated trailers or tractors.
“Cold chain keeps the flowers from opening up because once they start warming up they open up and don’t last as long. We try to keep them as tight as possible.”
Riccardi knows the people who run “Art in Bloom” well, and starts helping garden club members choose what flowers and plant materials they want well before the show, often before they even know what object they will be interpreting.
“They just come here and start looking and start thinking and see what’s available. All of them are pretty nervous because it has to be perfect if it’s at the MFA,” Riccardi said. “The ladies are looking [for] what will be available at the time of the event, and also what’s looking good. They are constantly on the lookout for something different, they scour the entire market looking for flowers that will set them apart. They take it very seriously.”
Riccardi says he loves working with the MFA for “Art in Bloom.”
“They are all talented and they all care so much. They are the ones that make “Art in Bloom” a success. And it just keeps getting better year after year.”
Ironically, Riccardi, who’s lived in Massachusetts his whole life, hasn’t actually seen the whole exhibit play out. Even after 20 years of helping out with “Art in Bloom,” he hasn’t made it to an exhibit. His schedule makes it nearly impossible.
“I get up at 1:30 a.m., done at 3:30 p.m. — seven days a week — and I’m just exhausted/ I have never been but I get tickets all the time, which I appreciate. Being a florist is a hard job, and I haven’t had time. It falls at a time that we are very busy, we’re preparing for Mother’s Day and Easter. I’m in a business that doesn’t sleep, I’m never ever done.”
For O’Brien, the endless hours she’s spent getting ready for “Art in Bloom” hasn’t dampened her excitement for one of the museum’s busiest weekends of the year.
“It’s absolutely exhilarating. The energy at the museum next weekend is so infectious and so contagious, and just so fun to be apart of,” O’Brien said. “The objects are absolutely spectacular. I see all the arrangements that the garden clubs make, and every year they keep getting better. I just know that’s what will happen this year.”
“Art in Bloom” begins Friday, April 28, with an evening preview and continues April 29-May 1 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. For more information, visit www.mfa.org.Lexi Peery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org