Saturday 5th of November was a sad day for flower painters.
After 20 years, the last AGM of the Society of Floral Painters took place in Salisbury, a last chance for old friends to say goodbye. There were many a tear shed as members and committee members expressed their affection, pride, gratitude and sorrow for a beautiful society that helped and supported so many of us.
My first memory of the society was in 2002, when I became a member. I was doing a degree in community art work at City College and as part of the degree I took three art units. The art teacher disliked my work and was always very, very mean to me. He used to say things like “You have a lot of talent but you are wasting it on painting flowers!” I couldn’t understand how such a passion for the natural world could be a waste but I would still come home in tears.
The morning of the SFP assessment, I talked to my paintings and even promised a passionflower watercolour that I would keep it forever on my wall if it got me in. I delivered my paintings and waited anxiously. At the end of the day, Vivien came out of the judging room, looking very tall and serious and ballet teacher-like and walked towards me. I felt like I was 10 years old and about to find out if I was going to move up to the next ballet grade. She gave me a little smile and said, “You’ve been a very good girl.” Relief and happiness washed over me. I could have kissed her (Although I didn’t because the “good girl” reference did not help with the “being 10 years old” feeling). Vivien and I became great friends and I have hugged and kissed her many times since…
After I became an SFP member, the teacher at college couldn’t hurt me as much with his vitriolic comments. I was protected, sheltered by a group of like-minded people who understood and admired my work in a way he never could. I thrived within the SFP haven. At my first Mottisfont exhibition, Sue and Roy Lancaster bought one of my paintings and I launched into this unexpected artist career.
The starting point was the SFP and the reassuring idea that there was a place for me in the art world. I kept my promise; the passionflower is still hanging on the wall.
All present yesterday have similar memories: warm welcome, friendly support, a launch pad for a career, meeting friends with the same passions, a dedicated committee organising exhibitions to show our work, Caroline’s beautiful handwriting… The Society of Floral Painters was some or all of this to each of us and we will all remember something different. The one last thing we all have in common is the sadness of losing this amazing, beautiful society.
This is truly the end of an era…