Art is blooming at museum while winter stays static in Milwaukee

Do you remember what flowers look like? Rather than amnesia, living in Milwaukee year round may very well lead some to forget. The old saying has it wrong — for Milwaukee at least: It's hard for April showers to bring May flowers when snow is on the ground.

Luckily, the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr., has our backs with its second annual Art in Bloom, which premieres today and runs until Sunday. The show features 40 pieces of floral arrangements strategically throughout the museum to partner paintings and other art. Although it's not all too common for college students to be horticultural fanatics, the show offers a great opportunity to view the museum's art while surrounded by flowers and plants that may trick us into believing spring has arrived.

Marcia Ferguson Velde, co-chair of Art in Bloom, said that living plants had a noticeable effect on those that came to the exhibit last year.

"Everyone that walked in that weekend was smiling," she said.

Windhover Hall, the area of the museum under the arch of the Quadracci Pavilion, the white wing-like structure, was completely transformed from flowers from Locker's Florist. Last year plants were arranged around Dale Chihuly's remarkable multi-colored glass sculpture to mock a water fountain. Given how stunning the sculpture is alone, one can only imagine the magnitude of being surrounded by a room full of flowers.

"It's fabulous. When people walked in last year, jaws just dropped," said Ferguson Velde. "This year it's going to be very different. I'm just going to say one thing: tulips."

Floral designer Pam Borgardt, of Milaeger's Inc., participated in Art in Bloom last year and was awarded Best in Show and the People's Choice Award. Borgardt's assigned artwork is a piece of French impressionism, which she had to study and analyze before designing her floral arrangement.

"We have no idea which piece we're going to have," Borgadt said. "We literally draw names out of a hat. I have to study the painting and apply the same design principles the artist used."

A part-time job at a flower shop in high school left Borgardt with a serious interest in floral design. She received formal training at various schools in the Midwest and has studied under well-known designers. However, she still knows good flowers when she sees them, and college students shouldn't feel left out if they want to spruce up their living space.

"You know, you can go to Pick 'n Save and find a bouquet of daffodils for $3.99. There are some that are very reasonable," she said. "Floral design right now is very minimalistic."

Borgardt said that "feel-good colors" like bright greens, oranges, yellows and pinks are the trend right now — possibly due to the recession.

The idea of pairing art and flowers was brought to Milwaukee after Margarete Harvey, a landscape architect and Art in Bloom's other co-chair, visited a similar exhibit in the St. Louis Art Museum and was overwhelmed with how wonderful an experience it was.

The show goes to prove that gardening is more than a favorite outdoor hobby to many, with much artistic thought and horticultural knowledge necessary to make floral arrangements compliment art.

Phyllis Scharner, president of the Milwaukee Art Museum Garden Club, said the floral designs featured show that garden isn't limited to digging and planting.

"I like to recall the words of French philosopher Jacques Maritain on the subject of art: 'Art is the well doing of that which needs to be made,'" she said.

"Of course, gardening (and related activities) can be elevated to an art when it exemplifies the principles of art: line, shape form, etc.," she said. "Consider the famous gardens of the past — England's Hampton Court, the Italian gardens of the Renaissance, the French gardens at Versailles, the gardens at Schoenbrunn in Austria, etc., all of which inspire various emotions of those who visit them. That's what art is supposed to do: inspire."

In the fall, curators go through the museum and select various works of art. The curators and chairs have a few rules of thumb for selecting art — one being to lay off the blue tones, since it is one of the hardest colors to find in flowers. With the striking Quadracci Pavilion being the newest addition to the museum and so architecturally attractive, there is an effort to bring people into the original building of the museum by placing arrangements there as well.

"Our art museum is phenomenal, there's no question about it," Ferguson Velde. "Since we built the museum we've been trying to get more people into the permanent collection."

A competition will also take place today through Sunday between floral designs. Two accredited floral show judges and a museum curator will award presentations to the top three designs. Visitors will also have a chance to cast their ballot for the People's Choice Award.

Michael George, New York's premiere fashion industry florist, will be speaking Friday. George's contemporary arrangements have been featured in publications or televisions shows such as Martha Stewart Living, ELLE, Vogue, the Today Show and Good Morning America. Other highlights of the weekend include a performance by the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, various workshops that may help students learn a thing or two about incorporating flowers into their apartments, and local "plein air" painters setting up easels in Windhover Hall to paint their own flowers.

Other events include celebrity floral designers and master gardeners, book signings, a multi-vendor indoor marketplace, a garden sculpture sale and floral-inspired dining in the Cafe Calatrava Garden Room.

"We really think there's something for everyone," Ferguson Velde said.

Tickets for general admission cost $10 for students, $12 for adults.