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I was one of 200 experiencing an AIFD symposium for the first time. And I really didn’t know what the day would look like.

Not being a member of AIFD, but having researched them enough to know who they are, I expected to see several demonstrations and lectures, maybe even a new product promo here and there from various symposium sponsors. I really was not mentally prepared for what I encountered that day.

First walking though the enormous prep-room, off limits to standard participants, Alicia and I, as privileged members of the press(!), saw yards and yards of tables lined with arrangements. Every 50-foot-long table section had a different style and theme, as each section held the products of a different workshop. You’d walk along looking into a bohemian world of woodland-themed centerpieces then turn and enter a world of bright and cheery pave´ vases. I’d never seen such an array of versatile styles all in one room.

Blooms over Seattle, by AIFD

In the far corner of this enormous room was a rainbow of hundreds of uniform vases, most filled with flowers and ready to ship out the door. This was the donation center, we learned. Each year AIFD sends nearly 1,000 vases of flowers all over the host city. This year, “Blooms over Seattle” would be sending all these arrangements to senior centers, hospitals and the like, as AIFD’s donation to the city. A wonderful way to say thank you to the city, I thoughts, for hosting the hundreds of participants coming in from all over the world.

Blooms over Seattle, by AIFD

The quantities of all these arrangements filling the room was astounding. But it was nothing compared to what came next.

Taking our seats after our backstage tour of the large auditorium, we looked around at the 825 AIFD attendees, and from the buzz of excitement emulating from the veteran attendees, I knew I was in for a treat.

After a brief farewell to last year’s AIFD president, the new president and symposium coordinator welcomed us to this, their 50th symposium. I learned then that since that first symposium in 1967, AIFD was now in 14 countries and had about 1400 members worldwide. We saw images of floral pieces from past symposiums, each year seemingly getting bigger and grander in its designs. And had I been following that pattern I would have better guessed at the grandeur of the designs I was literally about to see.

The first presenters were Erik Witcraft and Frank Blanchard who both work from Portland, OR but grew up in Washington State. They proceeded to walk us through a stage filled with their 8 large floral pieces, each one a tribute to Washington State, and each one getter bigger and more complex. From hollowed logs, to hot-glued panels of Columbia Gorge waterfalls, it was a climactic build up to their final show-stopper, an enormous orb filled with foxtail ferns, craspedias and orchids: this was their floral representation of the biodomes that now can be seen in downtown Seattle. It really was quite the feat!

“Moon Over the Gorge”, presented by Erik and Frank

The rest of the day followed suit. We watched Aniko Kovacs and Ania Norwood present their display of 7 more large structures in their demonstration on various armatures. Using water tubes and vases of water for every structure, these two women used live florals to accentuate these large pieces of art. Again, they left the best for their finale, as they lowered down an enormous arch constructed from wooden stakes all zip-tied together, with various floral pieces and cages hanging down as embellishment.

Aniko and Ania presenting “X-cel with Armatures”

Hand-held, cardboard armature design presented by Aniko and Ania

With the title, “Outside the Box”, Arthur Williams from Denver showed us an array of his living floral designs, meaning they were designed onto live models. Starting with large hair floral designs, then walking us through his collaboratory exhibits at the Denver Art Museum, every piece he showed us was true to the realm of “outside the box.” His finale included a devilish display as a man woven with various floral headpieces crawled toward us, complete with horns and red paint over his skin. His artwork was nothing like anything I had ever seen at a flower symposium. It was truly the apex of an already, visually-stimulating day.

Arthur Williams presents his “hair-adornment look”, in conversation with Hitomi Gilliam

At the end of the day I found myself leaving with a new perspective of not just floral artworks, but of AIFD. This international association was not an organization preaching by their handbook of rules to follow in the world of floral arranging, as I had previously thought. Rather it was something entirely opposite. People, I’ve discovered, come to these symposiums to witness the displays of designers venturing outside of the world of standard floral design, to create their own artistic expressions.

This was a symposium that encouraged people to break the rules for the creation of amazing art with flowers as their medium. And as history has proved this to be the best formula for progression, I can now attest that AIFD is an organization who wants to see just that: the progression of art.

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