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Preview: Flower Power

By Anh-Minh Le

A floral design by Paul Stokey of Tesoro Flowers, between John Singleton Copley’s “William Vassall and His Son Leonard” and Robert Feke’s “Mrs. Charles Apthorp (Grizzell Eastwick Apthorp).” | Photo courtesy of Drew Altizer.

For a limited time this month, the de Young will be abloom once again as florals and fine art come together.

You never forget your first. Soho Sakai can recall in detail the inaugural Bouquets to Art in 1985, when she represented the San Francisco chapter of Ikebana International, a nonprofit cultural organization dedicated to the ancient art of Japanese floral design.

“This took place at the old museum, and I was allowed to choose any location I wanted,” Sakai recounts of the first of her many times participating in the annual fundraiser for San Francisco’s de Young Museum. “I selected the Avery Brundage wing that had a large bronze vessel collection. To complement these, I bought a large bronze vase and used large weeping willow branches, blue hydrangeas and other materials in my arrangement, which was more than 7 feet tall.” She still has that bronze vase — now displayed at the entrance to her Bay Area home.

And the popular benefit is now in its 38th year, carried over from the former de Young building to the current one that opened in 2005. The 2020 edition of Bouquets to Art was its first-ever virtual affair. Last year, it returned in person, but was available to view online, too. The hybrid format brought in over $500,000.

This year, it is entirely in person, with a six-day run, June 7 to 12. Prior to tickets even going on sale to the public in early May, it had already raised $400,000. According to Jamie DeAraujo, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s associate director of special events, proceeds support exhibitions, conservation projects and education programs at the FAMSF, which consists of the de Young and the Legion of Honor.

At a previous Bouquets to Art, artist Wayne Higby’s earthenware sculpture “Rapids Canyon” inspired exhibitor Eclosion, led by Thanh Nguyen. | Photo courtesy of Randy Dodson

An opening night celebration is scheduled for June 6, and the agenda in the following days includes talks by Dutch master florist Remco van Vliet, who is responsible for the massive arrangements in the Great Hall of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; German floral designer and author Gregor Lersch; and artist, designer, author and Berkeley native Justina Blakeney. A book launch and lecture with assistant curator Lauren Palmor plus luncheons in the Piazzoni Murals Room are also planned, along with a trunk show, flower cart and luxury benefit raffle.

The 2022 Bouquets to Art will feature more than 120 exhibitors in the permanent galleries. As in previous years, a San Francisco Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museums committee helped determine the participating designers, most of whom are local and were invited to peruse the de Young’s permanent collection. “They then select their top five art pieces they would like to interpret,” explains DeAraujo, “and we assign them a location from that list.”

Drawing inspiration from the de Young’s Hung Liu: Golden Gate show, Windy Chien — a former music shop owner and Apple editor now known for her fine art knots and sculptures — is collaborating with floral artist Jason Lloyd to create an installation in Wilsey Court. The base of Hamon Tower, the lower level, and galleries 1–5, 10–17, 20–27, 29, 30 and 40 are among the other sites that will be abloom.

An arrangement by Alan Do of NoovoBloom, in front of Richard Mayhew’s “Rhapsody” oil on canvas. | Photo courtesy of Randy Dodson

“We have enjoyed having the opportunity to complement different art pieces in different locations of the museum over the years,” says Sakai. For her, Bouquets to Art is a chance “to give back to the community and to share the mission of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana: friendship through flowers.” Sakai has been practicing ikebana since 1957, four years before she arrived in the U.S. from Japan. She began teaching in 1974, with four students at her kitchen table, and still offers instruction through City College of San Francisco. She holds the teaching rank of riji, the highest of the Sogetsu School.

Sakai is not the only original florist returning for this year’s Bouquets to Art. “So many of our exhibitors continue to participate, like Michael Daigian and his namesake design company, as well as Dominique Pfahl of Floréal — who have both participated since the inception of the event and are now bringing their lead designers, Jennifer Lato and Anthony De Leon, respectively, into the fold, too,” says DeAraujo. Other Bouquets to Art veterans taking part again include Elizabeth Filmer, Joan McLellan Tayler and Yoko Tonaki.

“It is moving to see the way that a floral arrangement can capture the essence of a painting or sculpture,” says Sakai. “The goal is to express what the artwork means, without copying the artwork.”

Bouquets to Art

June 7–12 at the de Young Museum |

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