During the 1920's live flowers ran in short supply and, as a result, hotels began to seek a viable alternative. Prevalent imitations of the time were local derivatives of an ancient practice of making paper flowers. These skilled-looking creations were simple enough to make that they were often made by laymen. The flowers were traditionally designed to be floated on rivers in a religious Chinese ritual of good prevailing over evil. The technique for making them was passed down from mother to daughter for eons. The practice was carried to the New World through a variety of sources, most notably through the railroad industry who hired the Chinese as a cheap source of labor.
The practice of making paper flowers in the old and new world entailed dissecting real flowers and forming paper traces of the colorful flower petals out of hand-died paper and then drawing distinctive markings on the paper by hand in a personal interpretation of what the crafter noted in the petal. Although in the US, the flowers, which were a winter pastime, were not later floated down rivers, but instead were used to decorate the graves of loved ones at springtime. These paper petal imitations would lovingly be assembled on stems using homemade glues consisting of flour, water, and salt, or hot wax. The stems were made from available twigs, string dipped in honeycomb wax or fine wire wrapped in green paper and also dipped in honeycomb wax or soaked in glue. The art form has remained alive in part through the honoring of fallen heroes by making and then selling paper poppies. These paper renditions of the poppy came into practice sometime during World War One and have kept alive the early art form uninterrupted to this day.
There was one huge drawback in using these as inside decorations, however. The paper flowers were very light sensitive and also heat sensitive, and were thus very combustible. The flowers were produced with natural dies that unfortunately faded quickly. Aside from their lack of durability, smoking was in vogue and vases of poor quality paper flowers were passively critiqued by being honored more as convenient ashtrays rather than legitimate art forms. The last thing that a hotel wanted to be associated with at the time was for attracting and providing an ignition source for burning down their heavily occupied building.
Silk flowers soon branded themselves as a welcome and surprisingly artistic and respectable alternative, and soon people were known to take as much time to marvel over them as their real counterparts. When placed out of reach, the flowers were accepted as real by guests. By the mid-twenties, the newly rediscovered virtuosity of the art form had what some would have found in the modern mechanized age to be a shocking 5000-year-old history that had its roots not surprisingly in early China.
Though little could be found to outdo the ancient Chinese who discovered and perfected the very silk weaving, making the grand illusion possible, the very skilled Italian artisans of the 1200's that had so quickly embraced the silk trade, not only set out to perfect nature, but quickly outmatched the Chinese with their own invention. By the mid seventeen hundreds, bird feathers were often used to imitate floral arrangements and silk flowers, butterflies and, paradoxically, moths were used to decorate hats and dresses, which brings the art form of life imitating life to an absolutely absurd full circle.
It was Marie Antoinette appearing in a headdress of feathers that started one of the world’s first destructive fads and, by doing so, she unknowingly brought a sad end to many members of countless species of birds that were nearly driven into extinction.
No one can say that the young lady did not have an eye for the spectacular however. There are several unquoted reports on the internet which state that in 1775 Marie Antoinette was presented with an arrangement of flowers that were so perfect that when she was told that they were fake she fainted.
It was most likely sometime shortly after the attendants picked her off the floor that silk flower arrangements were recognized for the first time perhaps as being far more sophisticated than their real counterparts. In one simple nonverbal statement, Marie had greatly attested to her appreciation of a marvel perhaps equaled only by the source material of the silk itself.
It seems that the history and her unique testament of the silk flower almost ends with the infamous conclusion of her reign in France, however. In 1787, the Revolution that deprived her of a place to hold her hats nearly decimated the royal court and the craftsmen that entertained her in that court. This also stripped the stunning flowers out along with them. Enough of the skilled artisans that had earlier floored Marie Antoinette with the crafty creations were able to keep their heads about them by scrambling out of harms way. Eventually they were embraced by a shocked England as welcome expatriates of France.
Some time in the late 1800's the orphaned French craft made its way to the United States ironically through the reemerging Paris, France fashion trade made possible by the recently liquidated royal court. Just a couple generations after their being driven from France, the "Parisian Flower Company" bravely stuck their necks out and reestablished their offices once again in France.
In the 1960's the now scandalous plastic flowers were introduced from Japan as a cheap counterfeit to the classy hand assembled silk variety. The substandard introduction of a poor imitation quickly saturated every level of the market, and smothered and thereby effectively stripped the crown away from a five thousand year old art form and seemingly forever labeled the outwardly endless supply of cheap imitators as a deficient manmade tacky flower alternative. The durability of the bad association of the ugly yet nearly indestructible plastic counterpart to the classy silk flower proved to be the formerly appreciated silk flowers downfall and it fell out of popularity and tumbled out of favor almost as quickly as Marie Antoinette’s feather dressed head.
That bad connotation and "tacky" label that has the ability to stir passionate wrath at the sight of the cheap imitation still prevails to this day. A generation’s inability to comprehend the difference between the art form and its counterfeit has successfully overthrown a long history of silk artistry of imitating nature at its best still to this day.
The choice to use the silk flowers in our facility is a brave one and has spurred some passionate guests to call for our own heads. It is, however, in recognition of the tradition of the heyday of the Hotel, the amazing history of the art form and in consideration of current conservation efforts that we have decided to take the less popular stand of facing the wrath of some in our choice to honor once again the noble art form that is such a huge part of the rich history of our faithfully restored facility.
Plastic and silk flowers have a reputation for gathering dust. Here is a maintenance tip for silk flowers. Open a window, turn flowers upside down, and give them a few short blasts of compressed air while rotating the flowers. The air will dislodge the dust and keep the flowers looking fresh. In Florida, this should be done two times a week in the summer and three times a week in the winter.