By Phyl Newbeck Observer correspondent
Visitors to Taft Farms Senior Living in Williston will always know what holiday is coming up. That’s because long-time resident Pierrette Roy creates floral arrangements for the lobby, hallways and dining area out of real and silk flowers reflecting the seasons. The building is currently filled with leprechauns, four-leaf clovers and other St. Patrick’s Day motifs, courtesy of the 89-year-old artist.
Roy was 2 years old when she first fell in love with flowers. Five years later, a neighbor invited her to make an arrangement from the flowers in her garden. Her first attempt failed when she took off all the leaves, but she quickly acquired a knack for the art. Roy moved to Vermont in 1951 and worked at three different flower shops. These days, she doesn’t charge for her work, preferring to donate arrangements to friends and charitable institutions. Her offerings include a life-sized flower mannequin for the Shelburne Museum’s Lilac Festival, arrangements for the Tea Tent at the Flynn’s Garden Tour and flowers for the lobby of St. Michael’s Playhouse. The last is clearly a labor of love, since the theater lover has missed precious few of the Playhouse’s openings.
In addition to decorating her place of residence and donating to nonprofit organizations, Roy helps out the people she cares about. She became friends with Jayson Argento after taking an acting class with him, and when he and his wife opened Argento Laraine Fine Jewelry just up the road from her, Roy decided to help them decorate. The result is a silk floral arrangement resembling an over sized wedding bouquet, which Argento happily displays at the store’s front desk.
Argento admitted that before receiving the arrangement, he and his wife had not been fans of fake flowers.
“The bouquet completely changed our perception,” he said. “Now we realize the arranger is more important than the materials. Customers frequently comment on how beautiful the arrangement is.”
Lately, creating her works of art hasn’t been easy. Roy had a stroke in June of 2012, which renders one arm useless and requires her to use a walker. She worried she wouldn’t be able to continue with her art, but if others are willing to hold a vase in place, she has no problem doing the arrangements with her good hand. Recently, she recovered some movement in her fingers and hopes she may be able to regain full use of her arm.
One positive side effect of the stroke is that Roy has begun writing poetry.
“I wake up in the middle of the night,” she said “and think of something rhyming and next thing you know I’m up and writing it all down. I’ve already written 70 poems. Sometimes things come to us at a late age.”
Although Roy is largely self-taught, in 2003 she began going to lectures and demonstrations called Art in Bloom at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. During the last week in April, garden designers create arrangements that match the museum’s artifacts; a technique Roy also used in her lobby, where one bouquet mimics the colors in the painting hanging behind it. Roy attends Art in Bloom almost every year and has taken workshops from Nancy Clarke, the former head floral designer for the White House, and Shane Connolly of Ireland, who did the flower arrangements for Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton.
Roy has four storage rooms at Taft Farms. Most have plastic containers filled with raw materials, but one contains finished products which are cleaned, revised and revitalized for different occasions. A quick look in that locker is an exercise in picking out the seasons, with arrangements that are clearly designed for spring, summer, fall and winter. Roy loves working with real flowers, but is happy to work with silk when real flowers aren’t practical. Her work is so realistic that people often stop to sniff the silk flowers, assuming they are the real thing.
Roy’s stroke may have temporarily slowed her down, but she’s clearly bouncing back and hasn’t lost her creative spirit. At 89, she’s still going strong.