Florist Nicolette Owen
Photography by Nicole Franzen | Words by Kathleen Krueger
Take a moment to appreciate the sensuous anatomy of a Lady’s Slipper orchid or inhale the fragrance of a budding plumeria, and you can surely understand the Dutch and their infatuation with flowers. Aside from being prized for their healing powers, flowers have long been coveted for their beauty and fragrance; often symbolic of the transient nature of life as we know it.
But it was in the Netherlands during the seventeenth century, a period more commonly referred to as the Dutch Golden Age, when floral fascination soared to new heights with the great tulip speculation. During this time, the most desirable tulip bulbs commanded exorbitant market prices that exceeded the value of even the most extravagant homes in Amsterdam. While tulip prices are no longer in a bubble and the Golden Age is long gone, the legacy of this period still lives on in the form of floral designs. Step inside Nicolette Camille Floral Design studio of Nicollete Owen in Brooklyn, New York, and you will find living remnants of floral artistry that bear a striking resemblance to the great works of the most prolific Dutch masters. Artists during the Dutch Golden Age began to shift their focus to still-lifes, or works of art that depicted inanimate subjects such as plants, animals, and man-made objects just as scientists and natural philosophers introduced a new paradigm for examining the world from investigative introspection over religious theory. These still-lifes bore a testament to the economic and political prosperity of the Dutch empire, fueled largely by the fruits of global commerce and colonial expansion. The proliferation of floral still-life paintings by prominent artists such as Jan van Huysum, Rachel Ruysch, and Willem Van Aelst reflected the aspirations of a growing population of middle class patrons. Similarly to the European nobility, these patrons realized that paintings were a symbol of wealth and power, objects to be collected avidly by the most influential in society. The timelessness of these paintings, much like the floral designs of Owen, owes much to their balanced composition, sinuous asymmetry, and remarkable realism. Owen grew up in the sun-dappled Hudson Valley area of upstate New York where she spent many hours in her grandmother’s flower garden, picking lilacs in the spring and bringing them into the house, allowing their sweet aroma to perfume the air. These early memories eventually led Owen to follow her artistic passions where she initially chose photography as her medium of expression. After she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, one of the oldest and most respected liberal arts institutions in the United States, Owen spent two years as a commercial photographer in New York. While her time spent behind the lens allowed her to embrace her creativity, she still longed for something more; she simply couldn’t pinpoint it at the time. On a whim, Owen found herself packing her bags for California upon answering an ad placed by a small floral shop. Little did she realize that this move would later lead her straight to her true calling in life. It was here in this charming flower shop that Owen became enamored with the art of floral design; the thrill of this multi-dimensional medium of nature captured her young heart. From the freckles upon richly streaked petals of ranunculus to bell-shaped blooms of fritillaria, she didn’t want to simply capture their likeness; she longed to share their living beauty. Stems, leaves and petals became Owen’s instruments of creativity.
Compare the subtle romance of Dutch floral still lifes with some of Owen’s table-top arrangements and you will understand why Golden Age artists such as Rachel Ruysch and Simon Pietersz continue to inform and inspire her work.
Read more in Issue 02