Flower Show to feature student sculpture

Art and architecture students collaborate with the Botanic Garden to design and build a sculptural fountain for this year’s spring Flower Show.

New England winters are legendary for the seemingly eternal chill and darkness, but inside the Talcott Greenhouse, winter’s cold grip has been shaken off and spring has sprung. This year’s Flower Show will be Mount Holyoke College’s 48th annual display of the sights, smells and sounds of spring.

Curated by the Botanic Garden’s director and curator, Tom Clark, the show is the culmination of many months of labor and inspiration. This year’s theme is “Seasons of Change.”

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort,” said Clark, nodding to the greenhouse supervisor, Jessie Blum, and horticulturists Brian Clark and Lily Carone ’08, as they were hard at work preparing the benches to receive the bounty of the Flower Show. “We're constantly sharing, bouncing ideas off of each other. The collaborative spirit is intense and is heightened by the urgency to bring it all together. The student workers are key players. They pot up the thousands of bulbs and seedlings, and groom and tidy the show on a daily basis to ensure it's fresh each day.”

As the show edges up on its 50th anniversary, Clark notes that while many elements change, some remain the same from year to year — just like the seasons.

“Every year we have the tulips, pansies, hyacinths and daffodils,” he said, sweeping an arm in the direction of hundreds of pots packed with pale green blades emerging from bulbs. “But we try to always have an element of something new as well.”

This year, the most prominent new element is the three-part sculpture, suspended on wire frames over the vibrant display of plants.

“You can see a gradation in the colors and tonalities,” said Clark of the sculpture. “Even completely stationary, it has a feel of flow and movement.”

The idea for the piece grew organically, as Deborah Korboe ’21, Lauren Ferrara ’20, Emily Damon ’20 and former student Rebecca Li worked out ideas for the design and implementation with Ligia Bouton, associate professor of art, who, with visiting artist in printmaking Amanda Maciuba, co-advised the students.

“We wanted it to connect to the campus experience,” said Korboe, who is an architecture major and a music minor from Ghana. “We wanted to map the seasons, but also the transitions of the academic year.”

As entrants pass through the display section of the greenhouse, they first encounter foil leaves, suspended over displayed flowers and a model river wending among them. Each leaf, more than 200 of them, is individually wrought to represent leaves around campus: pin oaks, ginkgoes, birch and maple. Together, they twist gently in the air, copper and gold progressing to lacey silver wire forms. As the fall section of the sculpture transforms into winter, the leaves give way undulating pennant shapes, representing gusts of wind, at first in clear plexiglass and then more deeply frosted, symbolizing the accumulating chill of winter. Light-colored and variegated plants complement the cool tones of the sculpture from below.

Finally, the viewer comes to a sea of waxy orbs dangling from the ceiling. At first, the forms are pure translucent white, but as the viewer moves toward the end of the greenhouse, they take on hues of butter, gold and sunlight, made by mixing in greater quantities of beeswax to a paraffin base.

“These were designed to represent seeds and seed pods, nuts and bulbs,” said Bouton.

The orbs are suspended over an exuberant display of tulips, daffodils and the other splashy flowers that announce spring’s arrival, buoyed by the fragrance of beeswax warming in the sun.

“We chose the beeswax because it’s visually interesting but it also engages your sense of smell, which added to the feeling of spring,” said Korboe. “At first you don’t notice but when it’s upon you — like winter into spring. At first it’s barren and then it just springs out at you.”

Bouton, who started working at Mount Holyoke in August, was impressed by the scope and scale of the project.

“It was a huge undertaking,” she said, noting that she initially thought that the project might have to be scaled down. But Korboe, Ferrara and Damon were undeterred and built the sculpture as they had envisioned is, spanning the full 40-foot display.

“It's been a gratifying experience,” said Bouton. “What’s come out of it for me is an incredible faith in the power of the Mount Holyoke student.”

Clark and Blum oversaw the cultivation and installation of the more than 6,000 plants, a process that begins almost as soon as the prior year’s show is over.

“Every year, we order more than 6,000 bulbs,” said Clark. The bulbs are potted and enjoy an artificial “winter” in the Botanical Garden’s walk-in cooler that keeps them at a steady 39 degrees as the show approaches. Depending on the plant, Clark and his associates move them to warmer rooms prior to the show to force the flowers into bloom.

As with every show, there is a water element, a nod to the Connecticut River, winding through the displayed flowers.

The Flower Show opens March 2. The show remains open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day through March 17, to welcome spring and the visitors who wish it would hurry up.

It’s time to grow! Is a women’s college right for you?