After the Flowers Are Gone

Metal vase from India

Sure. The flowers are the primary attraction in a flower arrangement, but the vase is not exactly beside the point. A florist will, of course, supply you with a vase when you purchase an arrangement, but is it likely to be (1) particularly distinctive, (2) your taste, or (3) something the recipient will want to keep?

Vases can be made out of ceramic, glass, plastic, or metal, although the last will be prone to oxidation and may supply ions to the water that are harmful to the flowers.

Ceramic vases can be either mass-produced or handmade. With a little planning a gift-giver could even commission a local potter to throw a vase for a particular occasion. After the flower arrangement withers, the vase is a lasting memento of the occasion.

Patronizing your local potters is also good for the regional economy. You will likely have to spend more money than you would simply purchasing a ceramic vase off of the shelf in a store, but the object will be a unique one if it comes from the hands of an artisan.

You may be surprised by how many potters you find in your area, if you start to look for them. In the small village where I live we have Cold Springs Pottery and Salmon Pottery.

Alex Solla's pottery
Alex Solla’s pottery

Alex Solla of Cold Springs Pottery* makes pots coated in deep saturated glazes that are reminiscent of Fiesta pottery of the 1920s and ‘30s. These bright, intense colors may be reflective of his Miami youth.

Mary Ellen Salmon coincidentally also moved to Trumansburg from south Florida and, in addition to throwing her own pots, has taken on the managerial task of gathering together the work of other artists—including Solla—in the gallery adjacent to her studio.

MaryEllen Salmon's pots
Mary Ellen Salmon’s pots

Salmon also teaches people to throw pots, which makes the point that you don’t even have to purchase the vase that you are going to send your flowers in: you can make it yourself. But then that would be the kind of planning that is pretty rare these days.

Glass vases that are made locally would be a little bit harder to come by, but here in the Finger Lakes region it is not out of the question because of the presence of the Corning corporation, its Museum of Glass, and its subsidiary Steuben Glass. In addition to the influence of Corning, the Finger Lakes region is home to at least one independent glass artist: Christian Thirion, whose studio is in Watkins Glen. As with pottery, buying a handcrafted glass vase will be a tad more expensive than getting one off the shelf, but art glass is, if anything, more exotic than hand-thrown pottery and likely to be an appreciated accompaniment to your gift of flowers.

Bakelite beakers
Bakelite beakers

Plastic flower vases don’t have to be as bad as it sounds. Plastic has been around far longer than we tend to think. The first plastic was called Parkesine—it was invented by Alexander Parkes of Birmingham, England—was developed in 1862. But the earliest plastic you are likely to find—and you will have to cruise your local antique stores—is Bakelite, which was the first plastic developed from a synthetic polymer. It appeared in 1909, originating in the Yonkers laboratory of Belgian-born Leo Hendrik Baekeland. During the 1920s and ‘30s many household items were made from Bakelite and the material now has an established ‘retro appeal’.

Virtually any container can be used as a vase. The essential criteria are that it stand upright and that it holds water. Earlier this month (May 2009) the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art on the campus of Cornell University featured an exhibit of flower arrangements—created by the Garden Club of Ithaca—paired with paintings. Some of the pairings involve a flower arrangement that is simply similar to the one in the painting. Many of the arrangements, however, have a more oblique relationship to their fellow works of art. The vases that support the arrangements are often as not as interesting and original as the flowers themselves.

*Cold Springs Pottery has since closed. Solla is now a photographer.


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