Most locals know about the talented Frances Palmer of Weston. Her distinctive ceramics have a quiet sophistication that never fails to elevate the beauty of what it holds—platters filled with seasonal fruit or a stunning centerpiece of flowers at full bloom.
An art historian and a printmaker, Palmer also has nearly thirty years of experience making ceramic and floral wonders that have won loyal fans. Artistic, through and through, whether designing a new vase, nurturing flowers in her lush garden, or photographing a floral arrangement, Palmer unfailingly expresses the elegance of purity, simplicity and timelessness—even romance.
“I love the process of changing ideas into form,” she notes on her website, francespalmerpottery.com. Also, keep up with the productive artist on Instagram @francespalmer, where she posts a vase and flower arrangement frequently.
How does your training as an art historian affect your photography and arrangements?
My training as an art historian informs my ceramics and photography on a daily basis. I read, observe and study continually. Then, when I sit down at the wheel, or work with the flowers, things that I have seen filter out into what is my vision of my work. Does this make sense? The older I get, the clearer I am about what is my work and how I wish to make it. But I am intrigued to see as much as I can that is out there.
You started as a printmaker, then potter and gardener. What happened to cause changes in your career, and do you feel you are, at your core, more one type of artist than another?
I wanted to be a printmaker when I was in high school and had planned to go to art school. But I was also captivated by art history, so I ended up with a MA in that, which I am glad I did. When we moved out to Connecticut and started a family, I learned ceramics and started the flower garden. At the end of the day, all of these processes are intertwined and share a common thread. They have to do with my work, yet the ceramics and the garden also have a will of their own. That is very appealing to me. So I feel that the ceramics, garden and photography are equally important.
You wrote, “I love the process of changing ideas into form.” What did you mean?
I meant that I have ideas in my head of shapes that I would like to make. I am constantly envisioning pots and I look forward to being in the studio each day. Especially when exploring new forms, it is exciting to see the actual, three dimensional vessel emerge from conception.
Your photography has certain Old World glamour. What is your artistic process or style?
Every day I see in my mind a grouping of vases and flowers that I would like to arrange. I have planted spring bulbs, summer and fall flowers so that I have a continuous flow of bloom starting from late March until frost. And there are hellebores and witch hazel for February. I assess what is blooming and what vase/bowl I would like to use for that day. Using a camera, I photograph either very early in the morning, just before sunrise, or late in the day. Those times provide the most beautiful light. I take many different exposures so that I can choose the one that suits the flowers/vases best. I photograph just about every day, as an exercise, because I learn something each time.
Are peonies a favorite springtime flower?
Peonies are glorious flowers, as they are great to photograph during all stages of bloom and decay. But they are also blooming at the same time as roses, bearded iris and late tulips, so it is hard to pick a favorite. I love them all.
Any tips for floral designing?
I think that it depends on the vessel. Sometimes, one perfect bloom in a bud vase is all that is needed. But, for an arrangement for a dinner table, for example, I will use a low footed bowl with a frog, and cut the flowers very short. I fill the bowl quite full and let the flowers spill over in a bit of chaos.
Do you have a favorite vase shape?
I think of vase shapes and flowers together. I often make a vase to suit the flower and then it depends on whether I wish to use a few stems or a full extravaganza.
What’s the secret to growing spring flowers?
One actually has to think of spring flowers in the fall, as tulips, daffodils, peonies, bearded iris are all planted then. But the local nurseries usually have plants in the spring, so it is easy to catch up.
LEARN MORE: Frances Palmer occasionally teaches classes at the New York Botanical Garden [nybg.org]—most recently on dahlias. For class updates, sign up for her email alerts at her website.