Floral designer Shane Connolly may do work for the British crown, but he refuses to gild the lily.
The man who filled Westminster Abbey with thousands of flowers, plants, and full-size trees for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s "wedding of the century" presented to a captivated Dallas audience his surprisingly refreshing philosophy: “the abundance of less.”
The occasion was the Dallas Museum of Art League’s 2020 Art in Bloom fundraiser, themed, appropriately, “A Royal Affair.” The March 2 event was chaired by Therese Rourk and honorary chair Amy Warren under the leadership of league president Dyann Skelton.
About 330 guests sipped bubbly and mingled to peruse silent auction items, assembled by chair April McCormick, before packing every seat in Horchow Auditorium for Connolly’s presentation. It was a veritable bouquet of practical advice, philosophical wisdom, charming British humor, and the tiniest tidbits of royal insidery-ness.
About that: Northern Ireland-born Connolly in 2005 was asked by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall (aka Camilla) to do the floral design for her wedding to Prince Charles. This resulted in a Royal Warrant of Appointment from The Prince of Wales and then the big ask: to be the artistic director for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding-watched-round-the-world.
While his discretion is legendary, he called the royal family "the nicest people and perfect clients that you could possibly want, and thoughtful and kind and appreciate nature like you wouldn't believe."
Early in his presentation, he showed several photos from the Cambridges’ wedding and revealed that all of the flowers, plants, and trees had been planted in royal gardens afterwards. “They’ve got more wisteria on their house than most people,” he said to chuckles.
“Their whole ethos was that they wanted everything to be ‘of the land’ and to be recyclable,” he said of their decision to line the aisles of the historic abbey will trees. “And it provided this framework for a couple, gave the hope of everything really, and I think it wasn’t marred by anything that was going to be unrecyclable afterwards."
This “framework of simplicity” guides Connolly’s artistic designs but makes them no less visually extraordinary than, say, super Instagrammy flower walls (which he does not “heart.”)
The power of flowers, he said, can be in what they represent — in capturing the ethos of nature, with a sense of place — and not in the sheer “wow” that they elicit. Many cut flowers are imported from around the world, sprayed with weed-killers and insecticides, he warned. And that floral foam widely used to arrange them? It’s plastic that’s not biodegradable, and water from it can pollute water systems, he said. (He calls it “the f word.”)
After some valuable lessons in sustainable design, Connolly got to work arranging gorgeous floral designs that incorporated both foliage and flowers provided by Everbloom Fields, an urban flower farm located just 15 miles from downtown Dallas.
His on-stage designs ranged from yellow daffodils arranged in a small floral brick, perfect for a coffee table or side table, to a grand presentation of branches and flowers fit for a hotel entryway.
At the conclusion, Skelton proudly declared, “Here at the Dallas Museum of Art, we never use floral foam,” to which Connolly shouted, “Hooray!”
Attendees then retreated to the sun-drenched Horchow Atrium for a delectable lunch of mixed greens-goat cheese salad, spinach and mushroom-stuffed chicken, and chocolate cheesecake with raspberry sauce for dessert.
Empress Gilbert and her son, Micah, of Dallas-based Empress Earth Gallery, provided gorgeous flowers for the luncheon.
A live auction, chaired by Barbara Harris and conducted by Sophie Duncan of Heritage Auctions, fetched thousands of dollars for once-in-a-lifetime trips, experiences, and one of the stunning floral designs just arranged by Connolly.
As the luncheon came to an end, Connolly’s books, A Year in Flowers and Discovering the Meaning of Flowers, were available for purchase and signing. Also on view was the fourth annual Floral Exhibition, which featured a unique display of floral arrangements created by 10 local designers and inspired by works of art from the museum’s permanent collection.
Notable guests included DMA Eugene McDermott Director Agustin Arteaga and Carlos Jaime-Hernandez, Barbara Bigham, Donna Arp Weitzman, Regina Bruce, Sung Moon, Daly Turner, Mary Geosits, Daly Turner, Sejal Kapadia, Linda Spina, Suzanne Guthrie, Lisa Blair, Tamareh Tuma, Leslie Champlin, Cindy Williams, Sarah Jo Hardin, Shannon Callewart, Susan Cooper, Sharon Gleeson, Judy Dryden, and Libbie Wilmer.
Proceeds from Art in Bloom support the Dallas Museum of Art’s education programs, as well as the DMA League’s Floral Endowment Fund.