The weather in eastern Massachusetts – indeed, in all of southern New England – has been on a roller coaster ride for the past ten days. It has dipped into the single digits and soared into the upper fifties. The warm weather melted the slender snow cover that had given us a sense of dignity. Now, the temperatures have returned to sub-freezing levels, but it is a world of grays and browns. It will take a good snowstorm to restore equilibrium.
|A floral design by friend|
And so, this past weekend, we set off in search of color and warmth, and found it in Worcester and West Boylston, Massachusetts.
If you are reading this locally, then you can skip this paragraph. If not, here is a little history: Worcester and the surrounding Blackstone Valley was, from the time of the Industrial Revolution until the 1950s, the industrial center of New England. It can claim inventions as diverse as the monkey wrench and the textile loom. Today, it is only a shadow of that glorious past, but two venerable institutions remain: the Worcester Art Museum and the Worcester Horticultural Society (WHS). The WHS’s identity has, for the past quarter century, been submerged with that of Tower Hill Botanic Garden but, established in 1840, the WHS is the third oldest horticultural society in America. The Worcester Art Museum opened its doors in 1898 and is symbol of the largesse of the industrialists who built the city.
|At the Worcester Art Museum,|
floral designers created
pieces inspired by the
Held annually since 2002 as a four-day event, Flora in Winter is a joint production of the two institutions. The Worcester Art Museum invites amateur and professional floral designers to create arrangements inspired by specific pieces of art. Professionals also contribute stand-alone, frequently oversize, pieces. Out at Tower Hill, the show continues with more designs, placed amid the subtropical greenery of the Orangerie and Limonaia. To my color-starved senses, it was all a feast.
Flora in Winter is not a ‘standard’ flower show, meaning the designers do not have to conform to any organizations set of design rules (e.g., “only fresh material”, “no manipulated material”). We ran into Elaine DiGiovanni, one of the region’s top designers, who said that the allure of entering the show is that, “the only rule is that there are no rules”. It’s an opportunity for floral designers to cut loose, with no ribbons at stake.
|'The Worcester Hunt' is a 6th Century|
mosaic excavated from Antioch. Its
presence is a symbol of the museum's
heyday (double-click to see full size)
It was also an opportunity to assess the relative fortunes of two institutions. The Worcester Art Museum has the second largest such facility in New England. It has a storied past, as evidenced by the massive ‘Worcester Hunt’ mosaic from early 6th century A.D., excavated from a villa above Antioch. But little ‘classical’ art has come to the museum since Worcester’s heyday, as evidenced by the acquisition dates on the paintings and sculptures.
|The Orangerie at Tower Hill|
Botanic Garden. A taste of
the subtropics amid the
Tower Hill, by contrast, represents the re-invention of a venerable society. In 1986, WHS left Horticultural Hall in Worcester for the Tower Hill Farm, 10 miles northeast of the city, and started over with a blank piece of paper: a 132-acre former apple farm atop a windswept hill. A 50-year plan was drawn up and buildings were erected, one by one, as funding assured their completion. There are still more buildings and gardens planned, but what is there represents a triumph of good management coupled with vision.
On a cold Saturday, though, all I could think about was color and a respite from a winter that has at least six more weeks to go. For a few hours, I was surrounded by beauty, created both by nature and by imagination.
What a great break from that gray and brown.