Once you’ve watched Chris Geoghegan decorate, you will never be able to look at flowers the same way – and a dozen red roses will forever be exposed as a dull cliché.
Geoghegan, a painter, sculptor, and graduate of both the Kansas City Art Institute and University of Chicago, owns Moss Modern Flowers, 7405 Madison in Forest Park — not at all a standard florist shop, but much more.
The West Elm store in Oak Brook hosted an eye-opening demonstration by Geoghegan on a recent Thursday afternoon, during which she showed shoppers and attendees how she goes about creating unique decorations using natural elements and nearly any container you could name.
West Elm, part of the Pottery Barn chain, is focusing on handmade crafts and artwork created by local artists, said manager Rachel Bushman. Last month West Elm partnered with artists from American Artworks gallery in Forest Park for a “meet the makers” exhibit of local artworks by local artists.
Geoghegan’s West Elm demonstration focused on using uncommon vessels as homes for living centerpieces. West Elm provided her with a hollowed log, a cake pedestal, a clear glass cloche on a plate, and several small enameled bowls. Geoghegan eyed each container, then set about designing astonishing little worlds of color, shape and texture. She created her masterpieces dipping into two large boxes she brought – filled with leaves, berries, branches, mosses, weeds, dried grasses, fruits and nuts.
Several shoppers, arrested by the sight, were glued to the spot once they learned that everything used in each creation was real – not a silk flower in sight.
“At my store,” Geoghegan explained, “I use less floral and many more sensorial and textured elements, rather than traditional flowers.”
Keenly focused on her task, Geoghegan was elegant yet casual in a drapy black cardigan and Asian-collage print pajama pants.
“At Moss, we operate under the principle of Wabi-Sabi – finding beauty in celebrating the life cycles of nature, rather than seeking perfection,” she said.
“The look I seek is natural rather than fixed,” she added.
Geoghegan explained to onlookers that each arrangement she created would dry and age naturally over time, changing the look to something even more interesting as it ages, and will last at least a couple of months.
The largest piece Geoghegan transformed was the hollowed-out log. After lining it with a sheet of plastic, she set inside it three shallow bowls filled with moistened floral foam. Then the magic began, as she inserted leaves, branches, even feathers, into the foam, building a miniature landscape that makes the viewer wish to be, if only briefly, tiny enough to clamber through the leaves and enjoy the exotic little landscape at close quarters. Nothing went to waste. A brilliant peacock feather was clipped, and the “eye” used in one arrangement, the delicate shaft with soft pennants floating from it in another.
Geoghegan produced a large southern magnolia leaf: deep glossy emerald on one side, a sueded tan on the reverse. Many of the natural elements she hand-forages locally; others she ships in from Australia, Hawaii and South Africa. She shows off a favorite neon-green flower with a fanciful Dr. Seuss look: “Israeli green dianthus.”
Eucalyptus pods – like giant green olives; long red Ti leaves, sorghum, shivering oatgrasses, tall pampas-grass stalks, bark, ornamental kale, artichokes on the stalk, ivies, globe scabiosa, vivid bittersweet-red Toyanberry, many varieties of fern, black millet seedheads, thistles in ghostly blues and greys, startling lichens – the possibilities are nearly endless, and nothing is off-limits if it catches Geoghegan’s artistic eye. And in the store, she offers other organic items such as bones, shells, skulls, fossils and antlers.
Moss has been in Forest Park for eight years, offering unique arrangements and interior and exterior plantscapes. Moss does weddings and events as well. Geoghegan’s husband, Ian Edwards, designs and builds habitats at Brookfield Zoo, and “does a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff for me.” Moss is well-known for its amazing window displays, changing with the seasons.
Just watching her as she assesses a container, then quickly starts selecting flowers, plants and objects that echo and enhance the container’s qualities of color, shape and texture, is a powerful lesson in seeing what’s in front of you. She discusses the container issue with onlookers, recommending using mismatched teacups, champagne flutes, even hollowed-out apples, as bases for natural displays.
As for her own aesthetic preferences, Geoghegan says, “I don’t do symmetrical well – I think it’s more intense not to do that. “Flowers don’t have to be boring!”