People often ask me how I came to create this art form. Forty years ago, after a long day of working in a factory, I saw a group of kids destroying a public tulip garden. They were trampling the delicate spring flowers—yellow, red, white, pink—ripping off their petals and hurling the broken stems to the ground.
I was horrified.
When the kids had moved on, I gathered the petals and pressed them in a book to preserve them—when they were dry, I realized how much they looked like brush strokes and used them to create my first collage. Over the years, I have rescued many such sacrificed flowers—from funeral arrangements, bridal bouquets, prom corsages, posies—and eventually moved on to other natural elements, such as fruit pulp, snake skin, and tree bark. I build shape and color with found materials and attempt to discover new life where others see only debris.
I have always used my art to connect to the past, to recycle and preserve the beauty in living things. The history of each and every flower I collect permeates my work. Like my mother, a weaver, I also weave patterns. It is folk art, but something more. It is memory and history and hope.
The way humans appreciate flowers is one of the great ironies of life: in order to see them in their full beauty, we cut them down, take them from their element, place them in artificial surroundings, and savor their beauty in their last hours of existence. I give those flowers a second chance: as landscapes, portraits, and images of happiness or peace.
I was 30 years old when I was forced to leave my homeland. Others left seeking a better life; we wanted simply to stay alive. With my husband and two small children, I was torn from my home in 1942, and in 1949 we were transplanted to this new land, where we did our best to survive.
I lost contact with my family: my mother, father, and three brothers had been left behind. The past has always been this way for me: separation, followed by struggle and determination. After many years of waiting, I gave up hope of hearing from any of them, and focused on my new life: I became a factory worker in Chicago to help support my children. It was hard, thankless work.
One day, after my children were grown, I received a startling letter. My mother was alive! She had enclosed a wild violet from home—the sight of its tiny, familiar form brought tears to my eyes. I pressed the fragile flower into the prayer book she’d given me as a parting gift. These precious petals also made their way into my art—it was my way of showing respect, of showing love to this small flower and everything it represented. Life is ephemeral, and I am convinced that life’s beauty outlasts its pain.
All found materials have a history. I like to think that I preserve that history and transform it. I am delighted that after eighty-eight years I am having my first solo art show. Just goes to show you, it is never too late to begin something new: sometimes the second life of a flower is as good as the first.