What Happens When a Flower Artist Goes Big
Botanical artist Lisa Waud's newest large-scale flower installations support Michigan flower growers—and create a way for Detroit residents and others to learn about the city.
Lisa Waud has always been about changing Detroit’s floriculture scene. She gained national attention in 2015 after transforming a neglected Detroit home into an art installation called Flower House, then ran a mobile flower shop from a rehabbed ice cream truck.
Now Lisa has returned to working on large-scale flower installations with an effort called Big Flower Friend. Her goal is to raise awareness of—and money for—the Michigan Flower Growers Cooperative. Many have lost revenue because of cancelled June weddings and events, she says, and she wanted to find a way to use flowers “that may have had nowhere to go.”
Lisa teamed up with the editors of the Detroit guidebook Belle Isle to 8 Mile and local photographer EE Berger to create six large outdoor installations “in intriguing places in Detroit, observable from a vehicle locally, and online everywhere.” The installations will be unveiled each Thursday until July 2.
Each site features Detroit places “of significant black culture and history,” Lisa says. The first, themed “Perseverance,” was at the former home of Marvin Gaye. According to Belle Isle to Eight Mile, “Marvin Gaye spent the late '60s and early '70s in this sleek mid-century ranch. His seminal 1971 hit ‘What’s Going On’ was conceived here, on a gold grand piano in the home’s sunken living room.”
The shape of the flowers, Lisa says, was both an homage to the grand piano “as well as the arc of us collectively ‘flattening the curve’ of coronavirus through safe actions.”
The second installation, themed “Truth,” was at the Birwood Wall at Alfonso Wells Memorial Park. According to the guidebook, “Nearly half a mile long, the Birwood Wall was constructed in 1941, as the federal government would not approve mortgages for whites in neighborhoods where black people were living. it is an artifact of ‘redlining’ where maps were color-coded as decisions were made who could (or could not) live in certain areas of Detroit.”
Lisa says her installation here wasn’t “about the installation; it’s about getting you to visit and learn about this artifact which still stands today—a physical, visible embodiment of racism. Conversations, books, films: there are countless resources for us to learn the truth of history, whether distant, recent, or yesterday. In Detroit, we live among people and places we can learn from. Arrive. Engage. Listen.”
The third installation, "Honor," was at the corner of West Warren and 23rd, "where black, unarmed 35-year-old Malice Green was murdered by two white police officers in 1992," Lisa wrote on her Instagram page. "I’ve been thinking a lot about how we honor stolen lives. For this installation, I learned about Malice Green, and, like many others, I see the similarities between his death and George Floyd’s—with one exception: the video.
"It's undeniable what is happening to black bodies, lives, and communities—not that it wasn’t clear in 1991 when Rodney King was beaten on tape. Shame on us. but, we’re here now, and there is a movement and a momentum. It's time to honor our dead, killed young, violently, from a place of hate.
"If you are local, go to the site where Malice Green was murdered by two white police officers in 1992, struck 14 times in the head with a flashlight. I put some flowers there so you have a soft landing, but allow yourself to imagine blood on the pavement. If you are lucky, like I was, some of the neighbors will stop and share their stories about Malice. Listen. Read.
"And my very specific advice—find a list of black people murdered (heartbreakingly, this is easy) and Google them. Look at their faces, read their stories, watch the horrific videos you never wanted to watch. I did this as I prepared for this installation and it wrecked me."
Lisa hopes that local residents will drive by the installations or visit safely in masks to observe the flowers as well as learn about the sites with information from the guidebook. (The creations are de-installed at sundown on Saturdays.) She’s also creating weekly Spotify playlists curated around the installation’s themes.
She aims to raise at least $1,300 each week to support Big Flower Friend. If more money is donated, she’ll buy more flowers; if less, she’ll still create the installation as long as the farmers and her team gets paid.
If you’d like to help, you can read more about the project and donate here. Lisa also suggests supporting your area flower farmers by buying flowers locally, perhaps through a CSA floral program or a contactless farm stand.
And, she says in a recent Instagram post, "yes, this project is supposed to be raising money for local flower farmers, so support me supporting them if you can, but if you can’t support this project *and* the black lives movement, by all ways and means give to your local black leaders and artists."