Mindful, minimalist and modern, Irish flower presser Ann Marie O’Leary tells us why this pastime is gaining momentum …
“Floral Folklore” the gown worn by Taylor Swift to the Grammy’s on March 14, when she won Album of the Year (for Folklore), has arguably been the dress of an otherwise lacklustre awards season. Created by Oscar de la Renta and co-designed by Tricia Paoluccio, the high neck, long-sleeved mini dress was rendered in botanical appliqués, embroidered with hand-cut petals and pressed flowers which gave the outfit a fluid, organic three-dimensional effect. If the inspiration was a late summer garden, the colourful creation shone a light on the formerly fusty pastime of flower pressing.
So, too, did Paoluccio’s design of a Steinway for HighLineNine. The grand piano was vinyl-wrapped with thousands of flowers she had collected while quarantining in California. Paoluccio is founder of the Modern Pressed Flower – and her artworks are a far cry from the pressed flower collages of Victorian times, associated with restraint, decorum and rather dull colours.
Someone who celebrates Paoluccio’s and Oscar de la Renta’s creations is Irish photography stylist Ann Marie O’Leary, who is also founder of The Flower Press Company. This differs from other companies on the market in the simplicity of presentation and her use of indigenous flowers and foliage.
O’Leary has been immersed in flowers for most of her life. Her earliest floral memory was planting and training sweet peas with her mother, when she was seven-years-old. She later became an event and wedding stylist. It was during this time that her interest in foraged foliage and florals began. Her mission while working with brides was to encourage them to use locally sourced flowers for the most natural results. “Foraged foliage and florals have so much more life and movement in them than force grown commercial florals.”
She started The Flower Press Company, not only to design and sell flower presses, but also to create an item that would return people to nature and also perhaps unite families in a hobby that transcends generations and ages. “It is my hope that each press will become an heirloom full of happy memories of tramping through woodlands and strolling along laneways.”
Happily, O’Leary has noted a rising interest in flower pressing: “I believe the current interest is a combination of the three things: our increasing awareness of climate change and how very fragile our ecosystem is, our collective realisation that we need to take time out from all the electronic devices that absorb all our attention and, finally, the increasing awareness of our disconnect from nature and its therapeutic qualities.”
Certainly O’Leary, who lives on the Dingle peninsula, extols the virtues of collecting flowers. “For me, every stroll becomes a possible foraging ground. Late spring is a time of true abundance. All the new growth has hardened off and the leaves have changed from vibrant lime green to a lovely, softer more mature shade of green which is perfect for florals arrangements. When pressing florals you are entirely focused on your surrounding natural environment. Foraging for me is a practice in mindfulness.”
As for creating her pressed florals, O’Leary reiterates it is an art form which requires skill and patience; she especially loves working with beech and montbretia. “A lot of work goes into the removal of moisture and maintaining the colour of the blooms. It is far removed from the craft approach of faded, dusty flowers glued onto a gift card.”
Currently she is focused on the Victorian passion for pteridomania – the pressing of ferns and has created new double-glazed oak frames sourced from a farmer in Co Kerry, which bring the pressings to a new level. “I can happily while away hours under the shelter of trees searching for ferns,” she says. Her mission? “I want flower pressing to return to the original, minimalist herbarium style of botanical pressing, which was all about clean lines.”
Should you be inspired by O’Leary’s minimalist masterpieces, she recommends the following tips: “It’s best to forage ferns in times of low air moisture – so midday is always is ideal. I always have a sharp pair of scissors and a basket lined with damp cotton cloths to both lay my foraging upon and also to cover them with to prevent them blowing away!” It’s also important to forage with an awareness of your environment, she says. “Never clip the first wild flower or the last. I will never take a whole bunch of ferns – I’ll wander around and spend hours picking single ones from different areas. I like to focus on the bruised and aged plants. To me they can look even more beautiful with their added texture and colours.”
At the moment she is working on a collage which will be digitally printed for framing and wrapping paper and later used in a wallpaper. “I believe it is the digital prints that will really generate interest with a new generation of botanical enthusiast.”
As for summer plans, O’Leary says: “I’m planning on taking my old VW camper van around Ireland to gather a wide variety of botanicals to press and then create collages to reflect these areas.” Her first stop will be the Burren, when the meadows are in bloom. “It’s a large project, however I can’t think of a better way to spend my staycation – jostling for space in my camper van with my dogs and my flower presses.” www.theflowerpresscompany.ie
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