A connection to the earth served as thematic inspiration for this stellar soiree in our nation’s capital.
The Chinese-American artist Maya Lin focuses on the relationship between people and the environment. Lin is perhaps best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., which she undertook at the age of 21 while still an undergraduate at Yale University. Controversial upon its completion in 1982, the memorial is now celebrated for its unity of vision and the way it harmonizes with the surrounding landscape.
Lin’s work was the focus of an exhibition this year at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in the nation’s capital, and the designers and planners of the 54th Annual Corcoran Ball drew upon Lin’s connection to the environment as an inspiration for their event. The ball is the premier fundraiser for the Gallery, located near the White House and one of the oldest museums in the country. The 2009 ball took place on April 17 among the priceless paintings, sculptures, and other works in the Gallery’s collections.
Collette Bruce, the ball’s chairwoman, gave a book of Lin’s work to floral designer Jack Lucky of Jack Lucky Floral Design in New Market, Virginia. When the two met to discuss their vision for this year’s ball, they decided that the event should reflect Lin’s work as an environmental activist.
“A lot of the basis for this ball was to try to be ‘green’ and organic as much as we could,” Lucky said. “Whether it’s recycled or sustainable or local, whatever we could add to it to make it ‘green.’”
The designers planned a different theme for each of the ball’s rooms. As guests made their way around, they passed through rooms evoking stately elegance, simple minimalism, and modern whimsy.
One of the first areas partygoers encountered was the gallery’s vaulted rotunda. To fill the large space, designers crafted 10-foot arrangements of green plants: dendrobiums, ferns, date palms, green goddess calla lilies, and fat horsetail. The room took on the feel of a wild, overgrown jungle, which was reinforced by projections of leaves on the rotunda ceiling, making it appear as if sunlight were being filtered through a lush canopy.
In the Gallery’s atrium, the design was all about sustainability.
“We used containers that were made out of found pieces of driftwood, and we used some that were recycled,” Lucky said. “The flowers in those particular arrangements were locally grown. They weren’t transported on an airplane across the ocean.”
The natural containers were filled with local viburnums and hellebores, blue hydrangeas and pussy willows, lavender sweet peas, tulips, and irises. Above all this floated delicate glass balls suspended on strings, evoking bubbles or drops of rain, lending to the room an enchanted, elegant quality.
In another gallery, the flowers emulated a coral garden. Thistles, Parrot tulips, and desert amaranths were set in glass vases covered with blue pebbles then placed among seashells and starfish. Silhouettes of fish projected on the wall completed the undersea theme.
Working with local and sustainable plants and flowers presented its own set of difficulties, Lucky admitted. Though more of his clients are requesting environmentally friendly floral arrangements, Lucky said sustainability only works in the right climate at the right time of year. Fortunately, Washington’s mild weather affords designers a wide variety of local plants and flowers to work with.
Though it was a challenge, Lucky and his team still managed to dazzle partygoers with the beauty and ingenuity of their designs.
“It took a long time to get people to sit down to dinner because they were enjoying strolling through all the different galleries,” Collette Bruce remembered.
One attendee who was particularly impressed was Desiree Rogers, the new White House social secretary.
“She walked in and asked ‘Who did the flowers?’ She was stunned,” Bruce said. “She wanted to go through every gallery.”
Rogers was so awed by the arrangements that she invited Lucky to The White House for lunch to discuss projects he could do there.
The ball’s other attendees included Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, Washington, D.C. councilmember Jack Evans, former Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Harvey Pitt, and Ambassadors representing the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Chile, and Monaco, among other countries.
Maya Lin has said her work is about finding a balance between opposing forces, finding a place where opposites meet. Attendees of this year’s Corcoran Ball surely felt that balance while drifting among the different galleries, taking in the mixture of elegance and simplicity, exuberance and sustainability, a respect for the environment paired with an embracing of all the beauty it has to give.