Sunday, October 23, 2011

Chrysanthemums in Bloom

My chrysanthemum from Milmont Greenhouses and Garden Center is in full bloom now.  From a distance it literally radiates color, something between ripe cantaloupe and pure pumpkin.  But up close you can see that it is actually many colors: deep sunshine yellow tinged with corally-pink-rose and clusters of a burnt almost-copper.

Chrysanthemums are from the aster family and are native to Asia and northeastern Europe.  They were originally cultivated in China and have been a part of Chinese horticulture, art and legend for thousands of years.  But it was in Japan where chrysanthemums became hugely popular and came to represent the Imperial family and Japan itself.

Chrysanthemums’ meanings are as varied as their blooms.  We use them to celebrate November birthdays, as homecoming corsages and for decoration at harvest festivals.  They are signs of remembrance at funerals and gravesites.  Chrysanthemums can symbolize abundance, wealth and optimism as well as sorrow and sympathy.  In Japan, they are an integral part of the Festival of Happiness, and I think they are incredibly happy plants.  I wore this kimono when I was a very little girl.  Although the chrysanthemums, fans and paper cranes are a rather faded now, it’s hard not to smile at this sweetly-designed fabric.

Chrysanthemum blooms have an incredibly graphic quality and are beautifully decorative in home furnishings.  This wallpaper is Coco in Yellow from Thibaut’s Chelsea Collection:

Cut Paper, in Blue on White, is from their Tea House Collection.  Both wallpapers have coordinating fabrics in a cotton viscose blend and 100% cotton respectively.

One of the latest and most striking chrysanthemum patterns is Manuel Canovas’ Penelope fabric, which is available in grey/turquoise, shown here upholstered to walls:


And rose/yellow:

It’s a little hard to see in the grey/turquoise version, but these stunning blossoms bloom atop a kind of Chinese Chippendale trellis pattern.

Chrysanthemums are lovely adornment for ceramics.  This pair of Japanese vases, from the late 19th or very early 20th century, is stunning.  They are almost 2’ tall!  They are available at Paul Marra Design in Los Angeles.

This is a close-up from another lovely vase, from about the same time period, usually called the Meiji Period.

The Meiji Period lasted from 1868 until 1912 and marks significant changes in Japanese society and political and economic structure.  During this time, the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.  The very strict segregation between classes relaxed as greater democratic and religious freedoms were introduced and Japan strove to become a modern industrial and military force.  This vase is available at Florian Papp, Inc. in New York City.

You can still sometimes find vintage Marbro Lamp Company lamps with hand-painted chrysanthemums.  Here is a detail of a pretty blue one from Assemblage Ltd in Chicago.

Marbro Lamp Company, based in Los Angeles, was active from the 1950s until 1990.  They created high-quality lamps from unique objects... Japanese ceramics, Italian marble, Indian brass… and assembled them by hand, usually adding solid brass mechanics, beautiful finials and interesting lacquered or gilt bases.

And finally, I think the most gorgeous chrysanthemum item I have seen lately is this Japanese writing box or suzuribako from Erik Thomsen Asian Art.  It is essentially a portable writing kit, like a desk set, and is exquisite on the outside…

And the inside…

Even the removable ink well is inspired by a chrysanthemum!

Erik Thomsen is based in New York City and is exhibiting at the International Fine Art and Antique Dealers Show this week at the Park Avenue Armory.

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