New Year. New Space. / by Jessica Hunter

When we look for truth, we are also looking to dispel our illusions.
— Clarisa Pinkola Estes
winter bouquet for a New Year wedding 

winter bouquet for a New Year wedding 

It’s a New Year! I didn’t ease in slowly, instead I spent NYE processing flowers, crafting bouquets and then dashing off to a house party with friends where we drank too much gin, played a make-shift horse racing gambling game (I think it’s one of my new favourite things to do and is called The Horses are Neighing, invented by one of the most creative people I know, Pete Lazar…check out his event company here) after which we sang Karaoke long into NYD. Yep, I sang Whitney Houston, “Oh! I want to dance with somebody, I wanna feel the heat with somebody, Yeah! I wanna dance with somebody, with somebody who loves me” like it was my last night on earth and it felt awesome! That is, until the next morning when I could barely get out of bed but had to rush off to design for a wedding. It was a rough start but once I got into the groove I was lost in the moment as is always the case with design work for me.

Image by NORR Studio 

Image by NORR Studio 

I’ve started renting a studio, as some of you already know. It’s just off of Barton, past the village in the historic industrial Cotton Mill’s Old Dye Works Building (now known as ShareSpace). I’m still figuring out how I want it to look, function and also how to accommodate the extra expense, especially in the off-season. In the meantime I’ve picked up a part-time job at a local café (come visit me at Café Oranje if you’re ever downtown Hamilton). AFM is still a young company with pretty much just myself running the show but I took a leap with this space in hopes for expansion and growth in 2016. I’m thinking of the studio as a baby, whether I’m ready for it or not, it’s here and now I just need to learn to make room for it. To begin I start with organizing…first to the books!

Image by NORR Studio from Wreath School 2015

Image by NORR Studio from Wreath School 2015

My goal next week is to go over last years numbers and see if I managed to make anything. I think I did but then I poured it right back into AFM, because I believe in what I’m doing, in beauty and in contributing creatively to our city of Hamilton. I hate looking at numbers and budgeting. I DESPISE IT ACTUALLY! Sim pushes me to be better at this. The thought of revising my bank statements usually gives me a surge of anxiety but once I am in it, it’s never as bad as it seems and I tend to find a sense of restored confidence in myself once I face things head on.

I forecast my growth for this year, disappointed with my results so far, as, truthfully, it’s been slower than I expected. Can I actually survive this? Will I grow? Do people want what I am making or do they just like to press the heart button on instagram? Will these numbers turn into realized revenue? I want to make a change in this industry, to reduce waste, compost more, shift from over-packaged imported flowers to unusual locally grown heirloom varieties. I want to help people appreciate the beauty from seed to table and to reconnect humanity to nature. I want to honour flower varieties that have been around for centuries but have been pushed out of commercial markets for higher profit margins so all you can find is mono-cropped long stemmed roses, mums, carnations, gerber daisies, sunflowers, and tulips. I love these flowers too but not when you remove the contrast of diversity. Homogeny is boring, dull and uninspiring. I strive for the utmost elegance in my design process and that means working with vintage varieties, in order to make a medley, which reflects personality. For me, it’s about storytelling through the art of flowers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the garden and the way an iris opens its petals but most of all I like to watch the response that people have to flowers. A wide smile. Tears of remembrance. Nostalgia for home. Hope renewed. Peace restored. For me, this is where the good stuff is.

I’ve decided to get into mourning and sympathy arrangements. I’d like to work with families to design a more intimate setting at a funeral, wake, memorial or even hospital room. I can’t stand the look of funeral arrangements and abhor that they are pretty much the same for every person. There’s no soul in it and I think the dead should be honoured with more thoughtfulness than selecting a cookie cutter design from a book. Where’s the intimacy? Where’s the humanity in it? So I’ve decided to do something about my frustration with the industry.

Images by NORR Studio 

Images by NORR Studio 

I really believe flowers have a way of healing, reminding us of our impermanence and in doing so they help us to grieve. Our culture doesn’t give us much time for bereavement; we’re not exactly comfortable with sorrow or the weakness that accompanies it. But after this past year, siting with loved ones who fell ill or friends who lost parents, I knew I wanted to make room for grief in people’s lives. It was hard for me to make room for it in my own. People tend to want to skip over sadness and grief as quickly as possible. When someone is sick, either with physical or mental illness, we don’t tend to want to be around them. I think it’s because it reminds us of our own pain and if we’re not comfortable with our own weakness how can we be okay around someone else’s?

Sim just got back from San Francisco on the weekend. I wish I could’ve gone with him, mainly so that I could visit the ocean but we are saving to go on a vacation together soon - patience. I went to the lake instead and watched the waves brush onto the shore, over the layers of ice built up on the pebble sized rocks, where everything was encased; it was like standing on a glass floor. It was quiet, except for the sound of seagulls mixed with trickling water and when I closed my eyes in the sun, I felt heat surge though me. For those brief moments I was away, free of responsibility, to-dos, and intentions, for those brief moments I was like the waves, making movements of breath to match their stride.

These images are of Steph + Brandon's Autumn wedding, captured by Viktor Radics 

These images are of Steph + Brandon's Autumn wedding, captured by Viktor Radics 

While he was gone I cleaned our window shutters, a chore I told myself would be worth it. While I was on the phone with a friend, I went over to the window to look outside and noticed all the dirt piled up. The next thing I knew I had a roll of paper towel in one hand and cleaner in the other. Up and down I went over each shutter, one by one until it became methodic, routine and I didn’t even realize I was cleaning. I liked the spontaneity of it and vowed to make more space for the instinctual in 2016.

We’re up North for the weekend and it looks like winter here, brown twiggy backdrops mixed with snow and pine. I just finished a bath, it seems like I take a bath everyday in the winter just to keep warm. It’s something I love about this season, the way hot water feels on my icy skin. The house smells of lavender, Californian wine, garlic and lasagna. While I wait for the sauce to simmer I read Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She’s brilliant, academic and engaging, but most of all she reveres the female soul. I carry it everywhere with me for moments when I am waiting, instead of checking my phone I pick it up, read a few paragraphs, which I find my subconscious chewing on long into the day and night, even finding me in my dreams. I think I’ve underlined most of the book as it slowly unleashes the intuitive nature of the wild woman archtype: powerful, good, passionately creative, an ageless knowing. Clarissa says “Be gentle with yourself, make the descansos, the resting places for the aspects of yourself that were on their way to somewhere, but never arrived. Descansos mark the death sites, the dark times, but they are also love notes to your suffering. They are transformative. There is a lot to be said for pinning things to the earth so they don’t follow us around. There is a lot to be said for laying them to rest.”

Images by NORR Studio 

Images by NORR Studio 

2015 was one of the most difficult years of my life but with all its tumultuous turmoil, came great understanding, peace and joy. It was a year of self-acceptance, getting to know my shadow self, unravelling the truth and in turn dispelling the illusions; making space for both my darkness and my light to coexist. In this, I learned how to return home to myself. I wouldn’t trade it for anything but I wouldn’t’ want to relive it. When I reflect back on it, all that happened, inside and collectively, I realize that none of it could have been planned as goals or resolutions; life just happened and I learned to pin things to the earth, forgive and lay them to rest. I like to think the flowers helped me with this.

Last week my brother and sister-in-law gave birth to the most precious twin girls, Diana and Estelle. Once they were born I dropped everything to help them with details and hold the babes whenever I could. Call it baby fever if you like but you try and resist the infectious perfume of newborns when there’s TWO! In those few days nothing else mattered. All my big life questions ceased and everything became about forehead kisses and swaddled limbs. The love in the room between parent and child was so strong. It was an innocent, unending, enduring, unconditional love that managed to put to rest all my ubiquitous new-year anxieties about work, marriage, home, and travel. In times of birth, as in times of death, we realize there are people in our life that overshadow everything else. They are our “can’t live without, must-have” people, our chosen tribes and the ones we want close to share in the sentiment of our rejoicing and our mourning. It’s these people we should spend our days expressing our affections for.

I’ve realized that selling flowers is not about selling a tangible gift, it’s about selling an experience. It’s about capturing the emotion of a moment, whether it’s the death of a loved one, the celebration of found romance, the birth of a child, the empathy for a friend, the smell of the season or ‘just because.’ This is what selling flowers is about and why I find it so extremely rewarding but immensely arduous. No experience, no person is the same, everyone has a story and in my work I don’t like to throw an arrangement together that looks just like the last one, pumping out bunches as if I’m on a standardized assembly line, where’s the soul in that?

It’s my mission to get to know you and your loved ones in order to create a piece of art that is deeply personal, resonating with soul and senses, helping you to connect to yourself and feel more alive.

Flowers are both an experience of the joy and heartbreak of life. They carry transcendental power, moving us beyond reason and reminding us of mystery. This is the business I’m in and although there are days when I question if I’m good enough, if what I’m making matters, if I can truly call myself an artist, if I can make a living from the my earth – I continue, I will not give-up just yet as I have experienced the way they elate my heart or loosen it t let go. I think others feel it too, that real is what has life and real is what I’m in the business of.

“Gifted women, even as they reclaim their creative lives, even as beautiful things flow from their hands, from their pens, from their bodies, still question whether they are writers, painters, artists, people, real ones. And of course they are real ones even though they might like to bedevil themselves with what constitutes “real.” A farmer is a real farmer when she looks out over the land and plans the spring crops. A runner is a real runner when she takes the first step, a flower is real when it is yet in its mother’s stem, a tree is real when it is still a seed in the pine cone. An old tree is a real living being. Real is what has life.” – Clarissa Pinkola Estes