Imagine a decrepit old house, long vacant, with pane-less windows staring gap-toothed from weathered and rotting boards. An old house destined for demolition in an historic neighborhood just shy of the Detroit city limits. An eyesore by most sane person’s standards, yes?
But Lisa Waud, a floral Artist (with a capital A) saw possibility, saw opportunity, saw potential for beauty in many senses of the word. She bought the house, paid all of $250 for it, and launched a plan to gather her colleagues in the world of floral design and fill the house with flowers, make it a huge artistic installation of floral beauty. She would charge admission, then donate the proceeds to a neighborhood reclamation project, one that would create a living, breathing, flower garden on the empty site.
Last week, my friend Christa and I were one of the thousands of people who wandered through this work of art, marveling at the riotous splashes of floral color, at the quirky and creative ways flowers were used - to make shower curtains, to fill bathtubs, to cover ceilings and doors and rusty pipes. Every inch of this dilapidated structure was transformed into a flowery feast for the eyes through the genius and insight of floral designers from New York to Los Angeles who donated their time for a chance to play in this house.
And Play it must have been (with a Capital P). In my mind’s eye, I can see them set loose like kids in a candy shop, with free reign to let their imaginations run wild. For once there were no brides requirements to meet, no funereal standards to uphold, no society matrons outdated ideas, no film producers outlandish requests. For these were no stuffy arrangements, set nicely on counters or tables. This was confetti. This was diamonds. This was flowers like you’ve never seen them before.
This was flowery artistic Play.
We don’t get to Play very often anymore, not in the course of our work at least. Like everyone who works for a living, Artists of all types find themselves conforming to standard, to structure, in order to make ends meet. It’s often necessary to play by someone else’s rules - the client, the conductor, the editor, the patron.
And yet, Play - and it’s corollary, Joy - are such vital aspects of the Artist’s creative impulse. I can imagine the floral designers who created the Flower House will work off the high of that creation for months, if not for the rest of their careers. That spirit of freedom they must have felt, of letting their imaginations run wild, can only inspire more greatness from them as they go back decorating weddings, funerals, movie sets and penthouse apartments. It will be something they return to in their minds on days when the work seems dull, when the client makes requests that seem offensive. They will close their eyes, inhale the memory of cascades of lavender drifting from a weathered rooftop, feel the warmth of a huge sunflower ceiling overhead, be eased by the genteel bower of pink roses spilling from cracks in the wall.
They will remember Playing in the Flower House.
And those who saw it, like Christa and I, those who walked through in our allotted 20 minutes of time, could barely take it all in, all this beauty juxtaposed with the worn and dying timbers of a dying house, was almost too much to bear. Our eyes didn’t know where to look first, what to gaze at longest, what scenes to commit to photograph, to commit to memory. Neither will we ever forget.
It was fitting, I thought, to open the Flower House in autumn. This homage to the kind of color and life only flowers can bring, all these harbingers of spring were surrounded by evidence of the opposite end of that cycle in the crimson and golden leaves on the trees throughout the neighborhood. As I wandered from tiny room to tiny room in his cramped old home, I couldn’t help but wonder...who had once lived here? And couldn’t help feel a pang to realize that soon those walls would come tumbling down, all the memories of lives once lived within them whisked away in the wake of the wrecking ball.
But to go out in such a blaze of glory? Who - or what - could ask for more.
I think Christa and I were both inspired by the Flower House, inspired to honor the spirit of imagination, to rediscover our own abilities to Play more often in our respective arts. Inspired to dream big, whether those dreams be of beautiful music well played or wonderful words well written. To know that even within our most tired and worn down moments, we could be festooned with beauty and radiate joy.
Inspired to Play.
Read more about The Flower House and take a visual tour.