Anatomy of a Design

Memphis/Milano Flower ShowThis last sighting of Memphis/Milano will give the anatomy of entering the class called “Blue Suede Shoes” – excruciating detail.  One of the unique and exciting features of the Memphis major GCA flower show is that the featured collection on exhibition is chosen specifically for the flower show, posing a new design challenges.  "Continental Table" 1984When the famous notebook of images of the chosen collection is seen at various GCA events and meetings, the designers do not know the gallery or the size of the pedestal.  They choose what appeals to them.  My rule of thumb is, first, the immediate appeal of the artwork as an inspiration.  Next, does the image conjure up one or two ideas right away?  If so, then I figure I’ll think of more.  If nothing pops up, it’s not the artwork for me.

Susan DetjensSo what does one do with a cow table, or officially “Continental Table” 1984 by Michael De Lucchi?  My original thinking was the round shape and the black and whiteness of the table.  I usually doodle ideas and choose one to mock up in very casual fashion.  However, losing the autumn and holidays to the broken wrist (and if I am honest, forgetting the ideas that originally popped up!) meant that one idea needed to move into action.

Susa DetjensMy solution was to deconstruct the table by using two round shapes spaced apart to give the design depth, and to pierce the round shapes with long right-angled boards to suggest the two panels on the table.  That opening would be filled with flowers and finally it needed to stand up on the pedestal.

Mock-up of designThe Home Depot yielded pink insulation sheets (30” x 30” x 1”) of Foamular, which were perfect to cut out for the shape.  They are smoother, easier to cut and less messy than Styrofoam.  A wire wreath form was used as a template for the size of the  circle. The jerry-rigged stand was made from scraps of Styrofoam and Oasis.  The challenge was to come up with the precise design and measurements of the stand for The Great Welder.

Design and stand practiceFrom the side of the design, a dummy stand of bamboo stakes in a piece of oasis/Styrofoam (held down from falling over by heavy kenzans) is visible.  It was important to determine how large the gap between the circles should be.

Stand by The Master WelderEight inches seemed the best bet so a drawing of the stand went by email to The Great Welder who carried out the commission with alacrity and precision.  How lucky am I?

blog Blue Practice with liliesThe circles were painted black and green, and the edges taped with overlapping pieces of cloth electrical tape.  This tape is not easy to find but it works really well molding itself to the shape. It has none of the shiny surface of most of the vinyl tape.  The matt finish and the overlapping sections created their own texture and covered the irregularities of cutting the insulation. Put some in your toolbox.  I painted two 6” X 20” balsa boards (craft and hobby stores) royal blue and placed them at a right angle in the opening.  They were a slight nod to the panels on the cow table, and being blue, an even briefer nod to the title of the class “Blue Suede Shoes”.

Upholstering  midolinoFor the rear circle panel, midolino sticks (green) were glued down side by side across the form on both sides with Alene’s Maxi Tacky Adhesive.  Tedious, but eventually it begins to go faster.  Kenzans and other heavy objects, placed on wax paper, were used to weigh down the midolino until they dried.  The overlapping pieces were trimmed with a virgin pair of nail clippers (something else for the toolbox – good for Botanical Arts cutting)!!  These sharply cut each one cleanly without smushing (technical term) them. Once the round shape was complete and precise, it was sprayed black.

Trial and error circlesA trial and error process discovered lemon leaves (Salal) were the right color of bright green for the front surface of the second round panel and a trial insured they would last if upholstered to the panel with glue dots.  Lots and lots of glue dots. The rear of this panel was completed in the same way with galax leaves.

Blue Suede Shoes Class First from sideThe stand was painted white to match the pedestal (a shout out of thanks for the touch-up!!).  On the back legs where it met the panel, it changed to black to blend in with the midolino.  The galax leaves on the back, more glue dots, were place over the stand.  The two rounds were literally hung from and against the stand with tape and more glue dots. The blue boards sat in the opening on the stand with a low slab of Oasis on top.  Finally the most glorious rainbow and white anthurium from were used along the entire opening.  In this side shot, the cow table is just visible at the rear.

Susan DetjensMore than you ever wanted to know about Class Seven, “Blue Suede Shoes” First place with the hope that some mechanics and construction tidbits might come in handy sometime for you.  And night before last, it snowed again……..



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More Marvelous Memphis

Dixon Museum lobbyMore Memphis/Milano to share!  In the lobby of the Dixon, guests were greeted by this delightful arrangement of curly willow, anthuriums, calla lilies and their leaves.

Max Sideboard, 1987Class 5, the Max Sideboard by Ettore Sottass, was the inspiration for a class open to new members (3 years or less) of the Memphis Garden Club and Little Garden Club of Memphis.  It proved to be an affirmation of the design talent emerging in these clubs.  Lucky clubs!!

 New Member designNew Member designNew Member designNew member DesignMaybe it was Memphis” was the title of the class, above showing four of the five entries in the class which had a gallery room all their own.  These are quite sophisticated structural designs achieved by beginning designers!!  All these four designers upped the ante by portraying using more vibrant colors.

Memphis/Milano Best in ShowA different tack was taken by the fifth exhibitor with great results – i.e., first in the class, Best In Show in Floral Design, and the Sandra Baylor Novice Floral Design Award.  This design is a good example of inspiration not emulation.  By placing the shelves and cubbies on the diagonal, an interesting tension is created.

Altair Glass


Sirio VaseDench GobletFive of the six entries in “Memphis in Your Mind” interpreted a piece of glass created in 1982 by Ettore Sotass, the founder of Memphis/Milano.  The top design is interpreting “Altair Vase” with its tall form and undulating glass goblet handles.  Next “Sirio Vase” is lyrically reflected in the curves of curly willow painted bright red.  “Dench Glass” is visible to the left of the lower design.  Notice how this uses lyrically curving blue plexiglass and clear plastic tubing to mimic the curves of the glass.  Pink and yellow orchids pick up the colors of the braces on the base.

Calla LilyIn a gallery much smaller than the Plough Gallery of the last post, there were three classes with a total of 16 entries.  It was almost hard to tell which was in which class.  “All Shook Up” included this piece called “First Chair” by Michele De Lucchi that peeks out from the right corner of the photo.  A pristine glass bowl creates the form, around which is a blue tube dispensing large white callas and their dramatic leaf.

Anthuriums and flaxWinner of “All Shook Up” is this dramatic design using striking New Zealand flax, brilliant red anthuriums with yellow craspedia and proteas played off against caning and corrugated cardboard.

 Symonds MedalDon’t Be Cruel” exhibited more lamps from Memphis/Milano “Cahuenga Floor Lamp”, 1985, by Peter Shire was imaginatively interpreted with tubular and conical forms reminiscent of the piece and with the added drama of starburst pin cushion proteas.  This piece won the GCA’s Margaret Clover Symonds Medal for “an innovative modern design creatively combining man-made material(s) with fresh and/or dried plant material”.

Flamingo Bedside TableThe five tables of Class Seven, “Blue Suede Shoes”, could not have been more different.  Made mostly from plastic laminate and lacquered wood, they inspired some unique designs like this one in turquoise, yellow, black and white.  The fascinating shaped leaves are aspidistra with a surface coating of self-stick vinyl which made them appear painted like the table.  A hidden wire allows the designers to create rhythmic shapes with them.

Colon tableThe unique colors of “Colon Table”, 1982, by Javier Mariscal are beautifully reflected in this design using anthurium, gerbera and mitsumata.   The yellow gerberas just peek through the anthurium giving great depth to the design.




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Marvelous Memphis/Milano

Memphis/Milano Flower ShowLast week the Memphis Garden Club’s GCA Major Flower Show, Memphis/Milano settled in the Dixon Museum and Gardens like a species of exotic birds.   Memphis/Milano was an international furniture and decorative arts movement of the 1980s, founded by Ettore Sottass, named while he was listening to “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” by Bob Dylan.

Dixon Museum entranceOnce the home of a founder of Memphis Garden Club, The Dixon Museum was filled with this colorful collection, brought in especially for this show.  Memphis/Milano “was a reaction against modernism”.  Last week it inspired one of the most creative shows of floral design seen in the GCA.

Carlton Room Divider, 1981Song titles of Memphis music were cleverly used for each floral design class.  Each designer interpreted a piece of the collection.  This design interpreted the cover piece by Sottass called “Carlton Room Divider”.  The designer’s intent read: “The Carlton Bookcase emits playfulness and at the same time a feeling of headiness portrayed in the Strelizia nickolai. The nickolai and the bookcase break all the rules creating a captive image.”  That seems to be a lot to ask a design to do, and the judges agreed giving it first in its class.

Casablanca Bookcase, 1981In the same class (called “Stuck in Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”) in the back of the photo is the inspiration, another Sottass piece called “Casablanca Bookcase”.  The mottled paint effect on the bookcase is very cleverly emulated by a open wirework grid or fencing, through which the Helaconia stems emerge from yellow Oasis.

Ritz Writing Desk, 1980The exhibitor creating this striking design for “Ritz Writing Desk” by Shiro Kuramata deconstructed the desk, using as components the legs, the desk surface as a base, and a vertical rendition of the horizontal ribbing, all in similar vibrant colors, enlivened by Helaconia placed upside down.

Gritti Bookcase, 1981Andrea Branzini’s “Gritti Bookcase” is behind the design and at over 7 feet long, very large presence.  The designer used a double ladder structure to place the Aspidistra, Gladiolus, Rosa, Zanteschia (mini Calla lilies), and blue and yellow painted mitsumata branches.

Airport bookcase, 1982“Walking in Memphis”, Class 2, had some of the biggest pieces of furniture.  This designer had to contend with “Airport Bookshelf” of wood, metal, plastic and glass by Gerald Taylor.  Many of the pieces in the collections featured similar colors of black, white, red, blue, and yellow.  This designer met the challenge and won first.

Carol Coffey Swift MedalD’Antibes Cabinetis clearly visible behind this dynamic design, which won the GCA’s Carol Coffey Swift Medal of Excellence in recognition of an arrangement of great distinction.

Malabar Sideboard, 1982Loyal readers know what a paperholic I am, so you can appreciate how much I loved this “Walking in Memphis” entry.  Out of an almost 8 foot square “Malabar Sideboard”, the designer chose the patterns of one cabinet door for her inspiration.  Using artist’s papers, she created a textured background for the exquisite Vanda orchids, Roses and Calla lilies that enliven the surface of the panel.

Super lamp, 1981“Super lamp” by Martine Bedin must look really hilarious with the lightbulbs lit.  This design won the class called, appropriately enough, “Bright Lights of Memphis” with its clarity, pristine execution and wit.  The yellow circle, top left, is a socket, complete with plug!

Fenwick MedalAnother lamp in “Bright Lights …” in an exciting interpretation that garnered the designer the coveted GCA Fenwick Medal.  The rather space ship feeling of “Bay Table Lamp” is captured with great insouciance.

Tahiti Table Lamp 1981 "Bright Lights in Memphis"Ettore Sottass’ quirky “Tahiti Table Lamp” inspired the most charming of intents – “It’s not all it is quacked up to be”!!  The design captured the jaunty attitude of the lamp.  These, and more, were in just the first room of the museum!!!  As someone said, anywhere else and they would all be blue ribbon winners.

Horticulture childrens classI’ll leave you with half of a Children’s Horticulture Class, whimsically staged on tiny folding chairs in a rainbow of colors.  More Memphis/Milano next time!!


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