Time Traveler

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness — in a landscape selected at random — is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain … It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with the sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern — to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal.” — Vladimir Nabokov, “Speak Memory”

 

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Pastel on paper. "Flower Camp" garden in Buckingham County, Virginia

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Pastel on paper. “Flower Camp” garden in Buckingham County, Virginia

December, 2013 / As someone who can “smell snow” on its way, I feel in my bones the coming winter is going to be a cold one. But as the chill sets in, I have a good store of sunshine on my back and joy in my heart set aside to keep me plenty warm.

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Sundown

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Sundown

Such fullness has me almost welcoming this change of season, as I reflect on the tapestry of experiences that were woven into my summer and fall. In early spring I sowed seeds of resolve to make the most of my time. It took some tending to, but I harvested a crop of experiences that only time allows. Time to hike a forgotten railroad tunnel and explore a forlorn and unforgettable grand estate with best friends. Time to putter in my garden for the better part of most mornings. Time – a whole wonderful week with my sister – reliving old and making new, precious memories. I played with pastels in a plein air class, and …

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Charleston, SC

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Charleston, SC

… spent a few days in Charleston (a city that has always haunted me — in a good way), right on the heels of digging in dirt where Dolley Madison and her kin once trod. Any one of these experiences, in prior years of twisted priorities, I might have made excuses to forgo. But I didn’t. I made a not-so-secret pact with myself to not believe in time as limited, but limitless.

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. "Twisted Twig"

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. “Twisted Twig”



November, 2014 /
Obviously, I indulged myself in “taking time” to the extent that I didn’t even post the above musings, nor did I write a single entry into this blog over the ensuing seasons. Now I find myself an entire year later with an even heftier weft to add to the warp in this time tapestry. Yes the winter was as long and cold as spring was long and lingering. And the oncoming winter by all indications is to be the same. These months have been so full of activities, weekend retreats and extended travel. A wedding and ancestral search in northern Italy consumed much of the mid-year creative brain trust, but my, what a swath of color that trip weaves into the “magic carpet” ride that was this past year.

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© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Gordon/Trible Wedding bouquet. Merate, Italy, 2014. Mary Garner-Mitchell floral design: hydrangea, David Austin and spray roses, dusty miller, seeded eucalyptus and vintage brooches.

Gardening took a back seat to many creative pursuits that I found as engaging, such as figure drawing and jewelry design and woodland hikes with kindred souls who like to study birds, tree bark, rocks and sky. Instructing a flower arranging workshop in September forced my hand at doing what I probably do best, followed by a long, solo visit with my mother, brother and sister in Georgia that reminded me of what is truly the most important thing in my world — family — my immediate family, of course, but not exclusive of all the loved ones that are the threads and binding of the thick carpet that daily warms my soul. Yes, I am “one lucky mortal.”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Flower Camp friends

Table “escape”

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Spring is trying its best to show itself at Stagfield, but the forsythia and quince are sadly going to freeze their buds off this weekend. Aside from vinca minor’s pops of purple, little is blooming and thus I had to scrounge around for a centerpiece for tonight’s table.

We more often than not entertain in the library. That room is in the 1781 part of the house and has this undeniable energy that we enjoy. Setting the large “Garner” pine table there for four gives a wide berth for “stuff” and what I lack in flowers today, I made up with things collected from here and there around the house.

The tablecloth is a “Goodwill via Target clearance” shower curtain whose winter to spring palette was my inspiration. Next, true to the room’s period I selected the brown and white Meakin “Americana ” plates with scenes of Mount Vernon, brown napkins, and pewter flatware as the soft patina married with that of the cloth colors. Then a few vintage books (about Virginia, France and of course, Mount Vernon), wood and pewter candlesticks, a few architectural pieces, lichens, river birch bark, turkey feathers, antlers and my roving deer figurine coached this gathering into some sensical theme… I think. I just enjoyed mixing the colors and shapes and justifying my junk-o-holicism! Among the junk are a sampling of old glass shards that have bubbled up from the garden over the years. They, along with a seed box full of artifacts we’ve collected here live in the library.

A couple of things about busy tablescapes, if conversation lags, they offer a jumping off point at least. That won’t be an issue with tonight’s guests, our good friends Allen and Melissa. And if I don’t stop “playing” and get to the market, we may all be reading rather than eating!

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The remains of the day …

“Everything has to come to an end, sometime.”L. Frank Baum, The Marvelous Land of Oz

© 2012 Mary Garner-Mitchell. “Parsley at Flower Camp”

It’s the season for seeds, and the skeletal remains of flora are just reminders of past verdant hues. The air has become thin with chilling whispers of what awaits come winter. I look at these forms and remember all so well their splendor, the way they garnished and the flavor they lent to what otherwise was ordinary. I mourn their passing, but celebrate the memory of their being — their deep roots, their flowers and how they stretched to reach their potential and the promise that life will go on in all things left behind.

Sue. You are loved.

Making arrangements

Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day – like writing a poem or saying a prayer.   — Anne Morrow Lindbergh

© 2012 Chip Mitchell. Floral design by Mary Garner-Mitchell. Centerpiece candlelabrum for food table at the wedding reception of Berkley Gordon and Colin Mudrick, September 15, 2012. Floral materials include coral spray roses, bridal white and peach long-stem roses, dried oak leaf and fresh “antique” hydrangeas, silver artemisia, protea, abelia, yarrow, dalhia, pale peach stock and “Love Lies Bleeding” amaranth. For more wedding floral images, see  http://www.chipmitchell.com/clients/cmp/downloads/wedding


Painting, design, dance, music, and of course flowers — all art is arranged. I think I may have mastered a couple of these, and a couple I dabble at, but I love flower arranging above all. It comes as naturally to me as breathing.

Over the years I’ve realized enormous similarities between flower arranging and graphic design.  I once told an intern back in my previous life as a newspaper art director, that page layout was similar to arranging flowers.  One needs an entry point, a focal point and an ending.  White or negative space is essential, as is cohesiveness in color and tone. And the color and tone must convey the story or theme, be it either a photo spread or flower arrangement. For focus, a dominant image married with a well-crafted headline should prevail, supported by secondary and detailed “spots” lending detail.  Same is true for a flower arrangement. One key material or blossom is supported by the punches and wisps  of select materials that will dance and enhance.  As for endings, in a photo spread, an image that is the sum of all the others before it; for florals, if not the container, then it is the collective whole of the materials that went into the arrangement.

I think the same can be said for life.  There’s the entry point — the birth and/or nurturing through childhood; some form of focus — natural gifts or education that will support and influence; and the ending — a means of grounding, closure and completeness.  Stories, be they in photos or flowers — or lives — all transfer to memory, and all, though bound to fade, color every passing day hopefully with beauty and richness.

White Room

© Mary Garner-Mitchell. Collection of miscellaneous white porcelain in the kitchen at Stagfield, Ashland, Virginia.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression Like white on rice?  (You have to be Southern to say it “rite!”) Lest you wonder, it means something that’s integral, something through and through, something so stuck on something else that there is no separation.  I’m that way with old things. I don’t particularly like new, unless it’s a new car. That’s why thrift stores and junk shops are so appealing to me. And I seem to always be drawn to things that are or once were white.

I like how my collections of white objects are testament to their former purpose or previous life. Maybe with antique linens being the one exception, cracks, crazing, grease spots, the way a sugar cone has oxidized over the years earn these items  “most favored” status for they are the pieces that speak to me of memory, of time passing. Rarely do I think, “Oh, I wish this were restored to its original gloriousness, all clean and pristine.”  No, I like “50 shades of white” over the singular non color of new … “where the shadows run from themselves.”

© Mary Garner-Mitchell.

This photo deserves a bit more of a caption. Daddy made this Shaker-style table in 1975 for my first apartment from walnut he and my grandfather harvested long before I was born. If the house were to ever catch fire, I would certainly grab this piece on my way out! The reticulated bowl and platter filled with dried lichens may be one of my best thrift shop finds. It has an impressed stamp on the bottom that is hard to make out. If the Roadshow ever comes this way, I’m taking it and an early 19th century piece of French needlepoint for evaluation.The deer figurine is a yard sale find and I think I paid a whopping 5 bucks for it the year we moved into Stagfield. It moves around the house quite a bit. It is soapstone, I believe. The round plaque, a reproduction I buried in the yard for a winter so it would get mossy and gross enough to earn its spot amongst the old stuff!  The chalk urn I spotted in the barn of the same grandparents’ home when I was a little girl. When they held the estate sale many years later, I asked my mother to look for it and it was exactly where I had remembered!  It is my all-time favorite flower-arranging vessel. It holds pussy willow from the yard most of the time. The ironstone tureen is a much-treasured piece, and it, too, is on the “save list” as it has been handed down from my mother’s family for several generations and has held the centerpiece florals at numerous weddings, mine included.

Garden & Fun

Photo © Mary Garner-Mitchell

 

One of my absolute MOST mind-calming things to do, besides gardening is to spend an afternoon in the barn plundering through my found objects and turning them into something “new” and useful.  My Flower Throne was built in such a fashion from parts I had collected over several years. The shield back was an alley find from two decades back when we lived in the Fan; the round center piece is from a broken brass plant trivet; cabriole legs and miscellaneous ornaments amongst a box of treasures purchased at auction for a buck; and the framed base from old moldings that came with the barn when we purchased Stagfield. Two dismembered wire baskets form the “innards” and corral the soil and plants with the help of a scrap piece of Astroturf! I hit it with some leftover white paint and this year planted in all white verbena and New Guinea impatiens.  Somewhere I have photos from previous, more colorful years, before the original harp design in the back rotted out and had to be replaced with the trivet!  I think up these sorts of things on those nights when sleep escapes me. If I had good lighting in the barn, I’d just get up build something.  But alas, I must wait for daylight and a day when the garden or office isn’t calling!

” … a few of my favorite things “

Getting my hands dirty and making “things” …. namely growing flowers and creating dimensional art. The “brass butterfly,” photographed by John Hood, and styled by yours truly was created from embossing metal, Sculpey and wire. The fuzz on the body of the butterfly is shavings from a black pipe cleaner. A trip to the Flower Market in Richmond and “Voila!” — the visual for an antihystimine advertisement was born!

© Mary Garner-Mitchell / Photo by Jonathan Hood