FLORAL DESIGNER NATASHA LISITSA – Creating the Fantastical in the Wilsey Court for “Bouquets To Art 2011″

By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

BOUQUETS TO ART 2011 opens Tuesday, March 15th at the de Young Museum and will be on display through Sunday, March 19th. Celebrating its 27th Anniversary, this always spectacular event will feature 150 floral arrangements offered by prominent Bay Area designers and garden clubs. Placed throughout the museum, the creations reflect and interpret the museum’s permanent collection of art and sculpture. Bouquets to Art is the largest fundraiser held to benefit the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and one of the country’s premier floral events. Organized and produced by the volunteer members of the Fine Arts Museums Auxiliary, Bouquets to Art raises funds to support acquisitions, special exhibitions and education programs. Lectures by noted floral designers, luncheons and afternoon teas on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday complement the flower-bedecked galleries and public spaces in the museum. This year’s flower festival anticipates the ground-breaking exhibition, Balenciaga and Spain, opening Saturday, March 26th.
Click here for ticket information: Bouquets to Art 2011

NATASHA LISITSA of Waterlily Pond Floral Design is transforming the Wilsey Court into something she describes as “Fantastical”. She and her fellow designers and crew will assemble and raise the massive design on Sunday night in readiness for Monday evening’s Opening Night Preview Party. “This is in the name of the Arts,” Natasha says. Many hours of design and fabrication go into executing a piece of this magnitude, along with loading up a 16-foot truck to deliver the hundreds of pounds of floral and organic goods to the de Young. This year, her fantastical design incorporates some seriously tall bamboo poles and a by-product of the Mexican Fan Palm Tree – boots. “It’s the largest fund-raising event of the year for the Fine Arts Museums,” she says. “We are contributing to the arts and I want to do something really impressive.” Last week, she gave me the inside scoop.

“Through The Fire” – Waterlily Pond Floral Design, October 2010.
St. Mary’s Cathedral, San Francisco
Photo, Erin Beach

Sean: Where do you start with a project like this? Where are you in the planning stages at the moment?

Natasha: The piece we are doing is going to be an aerial installation. It’s going to be suspended overhead in the Wilsey Court. It’s going to be pretty groundbreaking in the way that it will engage the architecture. Our piece in 2009 was their first really large-scale piece. It was suspended in the center. This time we’re going to pretty much engage the whole vertical space – from about 10-feet overhead to the ceiling height 35-feet above. The code-name for the piece is “Fantastical” – which the dictionaries define as: fabulous, imaginative, and whimsical, existing only in fantasy, bizarre and outlandish. I like that. Our piece will be comprised of three 40-foot giant space frames constructed of bamboo pyramids. We’ll have approximately 80 individual pyramids that will be interlocked to create the piece. We’ll use about 2,500 feet of bamboo. In a way, it will look similar to a roller coaster. It will be curving and coursing in the overhead space.

Sean: That is a truly whimsical fantasy. How long did it take to come up with this concept?

Natasha: We did a piece for St. Mary’s Cathedral in October called “Through the Fire” where we used bamboo for the first time as the main material for the frame. We discovered its very interesting qualities. You can get a lot of volume using bamboo. It’s very good for our purposes because it’s light and easy to use for aerial installations.

Sean: How large of a crew will you be working with for the installation?

Natasha: We’ll have a crew of fifteen. The installation will happen on Sunday, March 14th, after the museum closes at 5:00. The truss that will be used for hanging our piece will be installed on Saturday night. Then we’ll lower the truss, assemble the space frames, hook them up to the truss, lift the whole truss up and then install the flowers.

Sean: What is the weight estimation? How many pounds are we talking about in terms of the bamboo poles, flowers, and materials?

Natasha: I’m not sure yet. I know the piece we did in 2009 was 800 pounds. This one will probably be lighter because of the bamboo.

View of “Elemental”, Waterlily Pond Studio – Bouquets to Art 2009
500 blossoming branches of Forsythia
30 Manzanita trees
200 trunks of Curly Willow
500 stems of Anthuriums
110-feet of copper tubing inspired by the de Young architecture
Diameter – 20 ft. Height – 15 ft. Weight – 800 pounds

“Elemental” – In the Wilsey Court. Photos, Erin Beach

Click on the photo to watch video of the installation:

Sean: Have you finalized your choice of flowers?

Natasha: We are going to make “fantastical flowers” – giant flower-like sculptures made from palm tree husks called palm boots. They’re from a typical palm called Mexican Fan Palm Tree. They grow everywhere. You’ll see them on Dolores Street. Every winter, during the rains, the tree sheds leaves and husks. They’re kind of brown, looks like leather. We collected about 200 palm boots.

Sean: How do you collect all this stuff? Do you just go out and stealthily pick it all up in the middle of the night?

Natasha: (laughing) No! We got a clue from someone we know who lives near a vacant lot that has these palm trees. There were a lot of husks that fell to the ground during the rains. My suppliers at the flower market also bring me some. We’ve collected them over the course of six months. You won’t just suddenly find 200 of them lying on the ground. We’re going to form these palm boots into over-size sculptures that look like giant flowers. They’re going to be about four to five-feet in diameter. I’m calling them “Fantastical Flowers” to make it clear that they are not real, but flower-like sculptures made out of this organic material. In the middle, we’re going to place fresh-cut flowers to imitate the petal and the stamen of the flowers. We’ll use very bright colors, red and fuschia.

Sean: Do you sketch all of these out ahead of time to know exactly what you’re doing or is there room to improvise along the way?

Natasha: The process of designing a piece is very interesting. We try different ideas, go in one direction, change our minds, then go in another direction. One of the most important factors to consider is the water source for the flowers. The flowers are going to be up in the air for eight days. We have to make sure they are going to look as good on the last day as the first day. We can’t lift a bucket of water up in the air. There are so many factors and considerations – technical and aesthetical – that go into designing these large scale pieces.

Sean: Will you be working throughout the night at the museum?

Natasha: We only have from five to midnight.

Sean: I admire you! Seven hours to put up something that complicated seems like an incredible challenge to me.

Natasha: We’ll have to be extremely prepared. We built a full-scale model for the Wilsey Court, one inch to one foot. It measures 8′x8′x3′. We can actually get into it. We made a model of the space frames and can see how they are going to be located, the number of pyramids, everything is planned exactly. It’s going to present an interesting view from different positions in the Wilsey Court. The best view will be from the balcony, and then from directly underneath, when you first walk in, and from the second floor gallery. The model lets us evaluate that. We’re going to assemble the space frame by looking at the model.

Sean: From a theatrical point of view, it sounds like the same kind of pressure and tension as building a set for Aïda. Is your crew assembled of people who know you and work with you frequently and thus understand exactly what they need to do to complete your vision?

Natasha: I have two co-designers I work with all the time. The three of us will know exactly what needs to happen. We have a plan and a schedule. Some of the crew are floral designers, some will help bringing everything in. Everybody will work on lashing the bamboo. We’re using a traditional lashing cord that’s waxed. It’s a good material for strong but flexible connections. That will take most of the time. We’ll have about eighty bamboo pyramids that are pre-made and then we’ll connect them into these space frames.

Sean: Have you had this design in mind for a while or did it come to you in a flash of inspiration?

Natasha: I got the idea after our previous installation at St. Mary’s Cathedral when we used bamboo for the first time. We were fascinated by its qualities and just started playing with making different shapes. The design-idea started coming together in October.

Sean: What is your color pallete?

Natasha:The frames will have a lot of electric blue with accents of fuschia pink. I’m extremely excited about this event. My philosophy is that if I’m going to do something – it’s going to be really impressive. The piece will be impressive with its size, it will be amusing, and whimsical.

Bouquets to Art 2008. Waterlily Pond Floral Design.
Photos, Erin Beach

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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