Debra Prinzing

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A lovely conversation with NYC floral artist Emily Thompson (Episode 173)

Wednesday, December 24th, 2014
Emily Thompson (c) Photo by Maria Robledo

Emily Thompson (c) Photo by Maria Robledo

Emily Thompson is an iconoclast, an anything-but-predictable designer and artist – and owner of the NYC studio and shop that bears her name, Emily Thompson Flowers.

Three years ago at this time, the flower world was celebrating the fact that Emily and her team helped Michelle Obama achieve her dream of bringing the outdoors inside the White House at Christmas.

This year, Emily is settled into her charming new emporium in lower Manhattan, a huge space compared to her former flower-closet in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.

I arrived to meet her early one October morning, a totally spontaneous visit prompted by the designer’s invitation when I took her class the evening before at Flower School New York.

As I wrote on my blog at the time, it was so gratifying to be introduced to Emily at her workshop and realize she’d been wanting to meet me, too.

An Emily Thompson botanical creation, displayed in a one-of-a-kind vase by artist Mark Gagnon (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

An Emily Thompson botanical creation, displayed in a one-of-a-kind urn by artist Mark Gagnon (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

That two-hour workshop was thoroughly inspiring. Every single word that Emily uttered was like listening to a Master instructor in a MFA program. I jotted down these lovely Emilyisms:

“I want to make things that are impractical. That are surprising to me.”

“The proportions I design with are more akin to the natural garden or landscape. I’m looking for powerful contrast, for things that resist one another. That draw the eye in and push it away.”

“I love to work with seasonal flowers, with things of our landscape. And then I’ll add bits of the exotic.”

“So much of design is done in selection of materials. I want a flower arrangement to feel like you’ve dug through the wilderness to find a treasure.”

Emily, designing with wild  and cultivated materials (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

Emily, designing with wild and cultivated materials (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

I love how the annual vines are climbing up the facade of this historic storefront (c) Debra Prinzing photo

I love how the annual vines are climbing up the facade of this historic storefront (c) Debra Prinzing photo

As I mentioned, Emily invited me to visit her brand new shop on Beekman Street, so the following morning we squeezed in a shared cup of tea/coffee and a tour of the new digs. I asked permission to turn on the recorder (natch) and Emily agreed.

Here’s a bit more about Emily:

Raised in Vermont, in a place she calls “the Northeast Kingdom – a place of uncompromising beauty,” Emily was deeply influenced by that sense of place, of the natural wildness of her childhood.

She was educated at the Pennsylvania Academy for the Arts, the University of Pennsylvania and UCLA, where she earned her Masters of Fine Arts in sculpture.

A floral arrangement in a beautiful Frances Palmer ceramic vase (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

A seasonal spring arrangement in a beautiful Frances Palmer ceramic vase (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

Emily is fascinated with the decorative arts and their history as she continues to collaborate with the rough hand of nature. Her flowers and banquet decor balance the uncultivated organic world with the delicacy of classical ornamental design. These pieces burst with unconventional materials like wild smilax, peaches and real butterflies, and always maintain sculptural grace. And most importantly, they are built in harmony with the space where they are displayed – as if they grew there.

One of Emily Thompson's nature-inspired assemblages (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

One of Emily Thompson’s nature-inspired assemblages, paired with a Frances Palmer vessel (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

Emily likes to cite William Gilpin, 18th century theorist of the picturesque, who directed builders of follies and artificial ruins, “to do so as if these ruins were not designed but naturally chosen.” What’s more, writes Gilpin, “they must be in magnificent style.” Emily’s work, like her ideal faux ruin, evokes nature in magnificent style.

Simply sublime (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

Simply sublime (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

Emily Thompson Flowers provides custom designs for special events and for all occasions. Using the freshest seasonal flowers, fruit, and foliage as well as unconventional and wild materials, each project or arrangement is individually conceived to suit the architecture and palette of its setting or to transform a room entirely.

At Emily Thompson Flowers in the Historic Seaport district of Manhattan, you can find flower arrangements and bouquets, artist-designed decorative objects, and all kinds of wildly beautiful things. The new shop is on a sunny corner in a building erected in 1865 by George B. Post (architect of the Stock Exchange), which is adorned with cast iron starfish and terra cotta sea monsters.

Old World-meets-Emily Thompson (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

Old World-meets-Emily Thompson (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

If you’re lucky enough to live in the New York area, you can order arrangements for delivery, but if you’re not a resident, visit Emily Thompson’s web shop to peruse the art, objects, tools and gifts that can be ordered online.

Emily Thompson designs powerful and poetic florals. She loves the peculiar, the quirky and the wondrous. To me, she gives us permission to redefine beauty in our own personal way, to ignore dictates that the vast floral industrial complex tries to force on us. On her blog, when Emily wrote in early 2014 about moving from a tiny Brooklyn studio to a full-fledged Manhattan flower shop, she wrote “We promise to do everything in our power to bring alchemy to all who need it on this island.”

(c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

More of Emily’s botanical alchemy (c) Sophia Moreno-Bunge

There is one more episode left for 2014 – and that’s my very special episode that will air on December 31st. I plan on sharing my insights for the New Floral Year, so plan to join me!

My personal goal is to put more American grown flowers on the table, one vase at a time.  Listeners like you have downloaded the Slow Flowers Podcast more than 28,000 times. If you like what you hear, please consider logging onto Itunes and posting a listener review.

The Slow Flowers Podcast is engineered and edited by Andrew Wheatley and Hannah Holtgeerts. Learn more about their work at