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Desert Botanical Garden’s Dazzling New Floral Sculpture Exhibition

A team member helps assemble “Wind,” the first installation of the new “Wind, Water, Earth” exhibit by Waterlily Pond at Desert Botanical Garden, which debuted in January.; Photo by Michael Woodall

A new exhibit at Desert Botanical Garden translates the elements into fantastical floral sculptures.

By Carly Scholl

The Arizona landscape has been shaped and carved by the elements for centuries, the earth transformed by wind and water into the iconic terrain we know and celebrate today. For two San Francisco-based artists, these natural phenomena inspired their latest installations, which made their debut at Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden (DBG) in January.

While this is their first foray into exhibiting at a botanical garden, Daniel Schultz and Natasha Lisitsa are hardly amateurs. The husband-and-wife duo are behind Waterlily Pond—a boutique art and design studio that specializes in large-scale floral installations. After nearly 20 years of experience as creatives in this specialized niche of the art world, their work is globally renowned.

“They have such a successful collaborative partnership because they bring different strengths to their pieces,” explains Lisa Harris, exhibitor chair of Auxiliary of the Fine Arts Museum, who has worked with Lisitsa and Schultz for the last few years on their various installations at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. “Very simply stated, Natasha is the visionary and the floral designer, and Daniel is the structural architect and engineer. Together they are a mighty team.

Artists Daniel Schultz and Natasha Lisitsa are the creative minds behind floral art installation studio Waterlily Pond.; Photo by Michael Woodall

“Wind”
January 19-February 19

“Water”
February 23-March 22

“Earth”
April 3-25

Access to viewing “Wind, Water, Earth” at Desert Botanical Garden is included with general admission tickets during regular visiting hours, but reservations are required in advance. dbg.org

“I think looking at their work speaks for itself in the floral world,” she continues. “Their pieces are original, imaginative, bursting with color and very exciting. In what is a highly specialized arena, they stand out and set the bar very high.”

In August of 2019, the team at DBG reached out to Lisitsa and Schultz to secure their talents for a future exhibition. “When we first visited, we spent two days walking the grounds and getting inspiration,” recalls Lisitsa. “We also did a lot of research and looked at photographs of flood waters and haboobs and the amazing sculpted look of the mountains and canyons here.” It didn’t take long before she and Schultz dreamed up the central concept for the exhibit: “Wind, Water, Earth.”

“In a lot of those meetings where we walked the garden with them, I could see their eyes light up,” recalls Lauren Warren, senior director of visitor experience and community engagement at DBG. “So much of these pieces is inspired and informed by the shapes that are seen at the garden and in the natural desert.”

Each of the three installations will run at DBG consecutively, beginning with “Wind,” which debuted in January. “This concept revolves around the massive dust storms you have here in the desert, as well as the concept of energy,” says Schultz. Comprising found, native elements collected from the garden’s green waste bin, including tumbleweeds, cholla skeletons and yucca stalks, this work will be located in Stardust Foundation Plaza and measure more than 16 feet high.

“The ‘Water’ piece was really inspired by a wash-like area of the garden property where rainwater flows during the monsoon season,” Schultz continues. “This type of installation is called a landscape intervention, because we are building it into the existing area.” The 100-foot-long creation will feature approximately 8,000 painted wooden dowels and 1,500 red blooms, which will flow through the Berlin Agave Yucca Forest.

Measuring 14 feet in diameter and crafted from approximately 10,000 fresh flowers, 500 feet of aluminum and 1,200 feet of colored string, the spectacular rotating “Eclipse” installation was a sensation at last year’s “Bouquets to Art” event at San Francisco’s de Young Museum.

Finally, “Earth” will close the exhibit in April with a massive sculpture located within Dorrance Hall. “This design is influenced by the stratum that is exposed in windswept geological formations, such as the Grand Canyon. The land is worn away by the different elements, exposing all the different stripes of rock, and we’re mimicking that with layers and layers of fresh botanicals,” explains Lisitsa. The immersive, three-dimensional design combines wood sculpture cut away to reveal 10,000 flowers, including roses, orchids and succulents.

“It will be amazing to watch the exhibition take shape,” asserts Warren. “Each of the three installations has a very distinct individual personality, but they build on each other in many ways as well, culminating in a strong cohesion between them all. They truly capture the heart of the desert environment.”

For more information, see Sources.

1. This piece, designed by Lisitsa for a 2013 exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, was inspired by a glass sculpture by renowned artist Dale Chihuly. 2. “Concentrik,” another commission by the de Young Museum, comprised a 15-foot-in-diameter wooden frame, more than 1,000 dowels and flowers like  amaryllis and pincushion protea. 3. The artists work together to craft the “Wind” sculpture, which incorporates found organic materials sourced from DBG’s green waste bins.

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