Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Modern Comes to International Flower Show

Traditionally held during the week of the first day of spring, The International Flower Show in New York City was a huge draw for many years. 1971 marked the last year for this giant flower show; now the annual Philadelphia International Flower Show is the largest event of its kind in the United States.

The flower arrangement for the "California Modern" room that won Mrs. Even Graves first place at the 1946 International Flower Show. F.W. Cassebeer, photographer.(NY208301)
The Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens includes a selection of hand-painted glass lantern slides of exhibition displays that were showcased in the International Flower Show from the 1940s and 1950s.  I always thought the brightly-colored glass lantern slides of the floral arrangements were so strikingly strange, and set out to find out more about them. Most of the inside “garden rooms” created as displays for the exhibition were in the traditional Colonial Revival vein, but a few stood out as being distinctly modern. Some of the more abstract flower arrangements look like tropical flora from another planet (you can read more about science fiction flowers here).

In 1946, a reporter for the Gardeners’ Chronicle of America described the annual International Flower Show as “a wonderland of gardens, floral arrangements, rare and familiar blooms, garden furniture, outdoor living rooms, tools and equipment.” Four floors were dedicated to changing displays of trees, flowers, and garden furniture by landscape architects, craftsmen, garden clubs, and hobbyists. Despite wartime restrictions on building materials and the fact that European flower stock was virtually unavailable due to the war, the exhibition was immensely popular with the public--a bright spot for dark days.  The chairman of the 1946 show remarked that attendance “broke all records.” 

An exhibit entitled “Four Centuries of Furniture with Flowers” displayed modern and antique period rooms paired with floral arrangements. Each day featured a different color scheme, and the accessories and flowers would be swapped out to match. The furniture was lent by private collectors and museums, including an original Duncan Phyfe card table. Representing the twentieth century was a modern California interior. The first place winner of the modern floral arrangements was Mrs. Even Graves of Fairfield, Connecticut, for her stark display of Calla lilies with Strelitzia and dracaena leaves against a white wall. 

--Kate Fox
Kate Fox is a guest blogger who is currently working on an upcoming SITES exhibition for the Archives of American Gardens at Smithsonian Gardens

1 comment:

  1. These modern arrangements are getting a pretty common touch among old setting houses. The abstract design seems to disregard any setting; although it was indeed best looking in contemporary, edgy and minimalist interiors. Plant’s inside are always a good thing, hell, I’ll take the free oxygen exchange for free anytime!