(Image courtesy Goldstein Museum of Design)
“Florals and floral patterns are such an enduring part of textile design, we almost take them for granted,” says Jean McElvain, associate curator of the Goldstein Museum of Design in St. Paul. “I thought it would be interesting to look at pieces in our collection, not just from western culture but from other global cultures, to see how designers have looked to florals as inspiration for design.”
As a result of McElvain’s curiosity and curatorial perspective, the Goldstein is presenting a new exhibition perfect for early summer’s floral abundance and the greening of our sensibilities. “The Demonstration Garden: Designing Flowers,” opens Saturday, June 9, in Gallery 241 in McNeal Hall on the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, with an abundance of textiles, objects, and garments showcasing an array of floral designs—representational and abstract.
The exhibition asks viewers to consider: Why do we adorn ourselves in nature? The pieces on exhibition, all from the Goldstein’s large collection, feature a variety of hand and machine technologies used to produce floral motifs. “From the maudlin charms of English tea cups to the bold embroidery of traditional Oaxaca dress, this exhibition reveals the desire to transform fibers, dyes, glass, metals, and clays into flowers,” the exhibition material states.
Highlights include one of Marimekko’s most famous patterns, the poppy or “Unikko.” According to the Marimekko website, “Marimekko’s classic poppy print Unikko was born in 1964 after Armi Ratia, the company’s founder, announced that Marimekko would never print a flower pattern. Designer Maija Isola refused to obey Armi’s orders and created an entire series of floral prints. McElvain adds that at the time, “people were moving away from representational florals to abstract them into something decidedly more modern and edgy—compared to the floral designs of the 1950s.”
Another textile designed by Stig Lindberg has a tight, abstracted floral pattern that fits together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Conversely, a kimono from the early 20th century and a silk dress from 1900 feature extremely feminine floral patterns but with radically different style lines. Textiles from Eastern Africa and Indonesia are also included, along with a table runner interwoven with metallic thread from France and several intricately designed purses. Botanical prints from the Anderson Horticultural Library provide an additional frame of reference.
“It’s fascinating to study the different ways in which designers created likenesses of plants,” McElvain says. She invites viewers to look closely at table covering so intricately hand embroidered that the stitching is the same front and back. “Then, compare that to a more abstract, beaded floral,” she adds.
Rather than an academic exhibition, “The Demonstration Garden” is a way to celebrate not only the flora blossoming around us, but also the myriad ways in which, around the world, designers embed flowers into the objects of everyday living. With objects from around the world from the 1800s to 2010, the exhibition is perfectly timed with our summer season.