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Art Review: These Paper Flowers are Amazingly Real in ‘An Exploration of Botanicals in Paper’

Anne Evans Anne Evans Art Review: These Paper Flowers are Amazingly Real in ‘An Exploration of Botanicals in Paper’Botanical Preservation Collection by Lea Gray. Photo by Hiroshi Hayakawa.
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Lea Gray has been crafting beautiful paper flowers for more than nine years. All of her creativity, experiments in paper folding, and appreciation of nature is now on view at the Franklin Park Conservatory in her collection titled ‘Bringing Reverence to Nature: An Exploration of Botanicals in Paper‘.

All of the pieces featured in the exhibit showcase her passion for creating pieces suitable for interior design.

“I am so thrilled my work is moving in a direction that is more interior design based,” says Gray. “I am mainly focused on creating very large intricate wall gardens that simulate live plant walls without the upkeep.”

Much of this collection centers on the highly sculptural succulent (which came in at number nine in Columbus Underground’s list of top houseplants). A Cascading Black Pine Bonsai, Fiddle Leaf Fig, and Black Maxillaria Orchid are also on display. Owning one of these works of art does not require one to possess a green thumb, and they will look their best forever.

Fiddle Leaf Fig by Lea Gray.
Fiddle Leaf Fig by Lea Gray.
Paper, black sand, found branch, ceremonial vessel, wire, and clay. 2020.

As you walk into the Cardinal Health Gallery, the large works of greenery adorning the walls make you feel like something is off about the air. Why is it so dry? Shouldn’t it feel tropical and humid in here? Visually, you think, ‘of course!’ as your breath is taken away. But then you remember all of these pieces are crafted from paper, and such an environment would be ruinous!

Many of the pieces play with lighting using gradients and shades of green. As you observe each piece, you may find yourself looking for a light source hidden in the framing, but it is the paper selections creating the highlighted effect. Each ‘plant’ works together to create the illusion of highlights and shadows from sunlight.

paper flowers and plants in a large design
Echeveria Agavoides Collection by Lea Gray. Photo by Anne Evans.
paper folded into plants
Echeveria Collection pieces by Lea Gray. Photo by Hiroshi Hayakawa.

There are several large pieces for your eyes to get lost in; dancing from flower to flower, examining the flocking on some, the sheen on others; wondering if they could possibly be real plants that have been gathered up and put on display.

“I rarely use found branches and driftwood, but in some cases, it makes more sense to create a portion of the design with these elements, rather than building them, to further enhance the illusion [of realness],” says Gray.

In what is the showpiece of the exhibit, an elaborate terrarium entitled ‘Botanical Preservation Collection’, there are two pieces of found driftwood anchoring the collection of plants. The piece captures the beauty and wildness of nature, or as Gray describes her work, “capturing the plant’s spirit.”

Creating the terrarium’s composition took nearly 200 hours, but “ultimately it was a playful and fun process because it was less about the mathematics and more about the organic growth that nature represents.”

closeup of paper flowers
Closeup of ‘Botanical Preservation Collection’ by Lea Gray. Photo by Hiroshi Hayakawa.

Gray researched and designed plants that would display well as a cohesive element. Time was spent time moving plants around – adding more of some and less of others, playing with shades of color, working with their heights and widths, and ultimately, settling on a composition that draws your eye all throughout the piece.

‘I knew that there were plants I had come across that I thought were absolutely stunning on their own, but choosing the neighboring plants was more about the entire collection as a whole, creating a giant composition over time.”

In addition to different brands and types of paper and cardstock, Gray incorporates Italian crepe papers, wire, various spray paints and finishes, dry shampoos and spray glues, air dry clay, sand, and other elements to create the realistic finishes for her art.

“Ultimately it is the alchemy and layering of multiple products that give each plant its own character,” she says, as she works to imitate each specimen’s natural form.

It’s been a pleasure to watch Gray’s work evolve, from when we first spoke to her in 2015 and her business, PaperBlooms Design was drawing attention with wedding bouquets. Since then, she and her bouquets have been featured on TLC, and she has shipped bouquets all over the country.

As her work has grown, so has her home studio.

Gray now creates out of a few rooms of her home and finds inspiration for her paper flowers designs from her walks in nature, as well as from all of the real houseplants she cares for.

“My house is littered with lots of plants for constant inspiration,” she says.

Bringing Reverence to Nature: An Exploration of Botanicals in Paper is on view at the Franklin Park Conservatory through May 31, 2021. For more information on how to visit, visit fpconservatory.org.

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