Italian design met Southern style at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens during Milano—Memphis, when attendees were treated to colorful blooms bursting from cones, clinging to ribbons of metal, and a flock of birds of paradise soaring through a chain link fence. Floral and garden designers constructed architectural towers of flowers, while calla lilies, sunflowers, and orchids dove under water, all with delightful results. It was all part of The Memphis Flower Show, a fleeting display of flora and art that was open to the public on April 5 and 6.
This year’s show, sponsored by The Memphis Garden Club and sanctioned by The Garden Club of America (one of only eight in the country) coincided with the exhibition, Memphis—Milano: 1980s Italian Design, which will continue through July 13 at the Dixon. The exhibit highlights the work of The Memphis Group, the design collective founded in Milan on a December evening in 1980 by designer and architect Ettore Sottsass, who orchestrated a new international style as a rebellion against Modernism. Pure, unadulterated color, industrial materials, and asymmetry defined the style, but it was a Bob Dylan tune, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” that gave the movement its name. (A prickly turntable played the song over and over again during that initial meeting.) The name stuck too, and an aesthetic revolution was born.
The renegade designers of The Memphis Group dared to use common materials such as laminate in their furniture, accessories, and household objects. However, every piece was handcrafted with meticulous detail. The floral designs displayed at the Dixon were too. Some materials were found only as far away as the hunting closet or tackle box—fishing line for cinching; buckshot for anchoring. In one arrangement, a lone bird sipped from a cup with tail plumage intentionally exposing the coil of the body.
For the “Best in Show” award, Allison Braswell, a Memphis Garden Club member for two years, chose to showcase pincushion proteas within glass bricks to complement a sideboard designed by Sotsass. In the words of the judges, Braswell’s composition reflected “style, polish, and sophistication.” Although those qualities were not always understood or appreciated in the work of the original members of The Memphis Group, the floral designs on display at The Memphis Flower Show more than rose to the colorful occasion.
Written and photographed by: Louise Calandruccio