2022 Speaker Profile: Frances Palmer
Meet Frances Palmer, a renowned potter, gardener, photographer, cook, and beekeeper. Contributor Jo Ellen Meyers-Sharp recently profiled Frances for this Slow Flowers Summit feature.
Frances Palmer (c) Jane Beiles
Every day a blank canvas awaits celebrated potter Frances Palmer. The muses of her work include the potting studio, three pottery wheels, four kilns, a camera and tripod, windows that allow natural light to flood the space, and two cut flower gardens established just steps outside the door. The pottery, flowers, and the resulting images demand concentration and intentional creation to ensure the elements compliment and complement each other. It’s an environment constructed to nourish her creativity.
Frances creates and shares her art through her photography, which depicts tables set for intimate meals, studio vignettes and commissions for collectors and galleries. Her integrated practice has resulted in Frances Palmer Life in the Studio, published in 2020 by Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing. In the book she captures how her life is filled with purposeful and intentional activities that come together as a whole in her creations of functional pottery, flowers, photography, and food.
Pottery, floral design and photography by Frances Palmer
“I would not presume to say that my approach is the best or only way to forge a life in the studio, but it is one that has served me well. From an outside perspective, the results of my work may seem to emerge easily, but it requires discipline and perseverance to produce day in and day out. My craft has continued to evolve as I continue to push myself, learning much along the way. It is my hope that in distilling strategies developed over nearly three decades of creative pursuits, I will be able to offer insight anyone can adapt for their own imaginative adventures,” she wrote in the introduction to her book.
The links between throwing pottery and growing flowers are rich with similarities, not the least of which is their unpredictability, Frances said. “Dealing between the two, there are real parallels.”
Frances thrives on and is inspired by these uncertainties and the flexibility they demand. For instance, she can plant flowers in her Weston, Connecticut, cutting gardens, but has little control over the weather, if the flowers will grow and bloom, and what that bloom may look like. It’s the same with pottery. She can shape it, glaze it, and put it in the kiln. But how it comes out may not be what she thought it would be, such as a different color.
It’s all intuitive in how they look and feel paired, said Frances, who photographs her arrangements every day.
“She has a free and unrestrained hand but is also capable of the discipline and focus and centeredness that a potter’s wheel demands,” wrote Dominique Browning in the forward of Frances’ book. “They are living works and works for living.”
Frances is educated as an art historian. She enjoys researching individual flowers, where they came from, and how they were used. Ceramics also are part of her research. Flowers and ceramics have been parts of civilizations from the very beginning, she said.
Life in the Studio, by Frances Palmer. A booksigning will follow her Summit presentation
She likes the look of English gardens and “in the beginning, I ordered seeds from the UK, but now, heirloom flowers are widely available in the US.” She’s known for growing dahlias for nearly 30 years in her gardens. “I love the colors of plants’ flowers that run the gamut, from muted vibes to gaudy. It’s a wonderful palette to work with,” she said.
“Underlying these efforts is unpredictability of ceramics, of gardening, of cooking and baking, which I not only accept but happily embrace,” Frances wrote in her book’s intro. “I am endlessly fascinated by these processes and their results, all of which are ultimately out of my hands. I love the surprise that can come from a flower or a glaze and the joy of finding a delicious new recipe.”
The 2022 Slow Flowers Summit theme: “Flowers as artist’s muse,” is a sentiment that perfectly expresses Frances’ art, said Debra Prinzing, founder of Slow Flowers. Read more about the Summit program here.
“I have been drawn to Frances Palmer's pottery for many years. In fact, I own two of her vases, which I absolutely cherish and love for displaying my flowers,” Debra said. “I feel our Slow Flowers Summit attendees will be inspired by Frances because of the way she views flowers as part of her art, specifically the flowers she grows in her Connecticut cutting garden.
“Flowers are her muse for all of her mediums, including pottery/ceramics and photography. I think we'll see flowers in a new way through her discipline as an artist and maker. Her studio approach elevates both the vessel and the botanicals contained by those vessels and informs floral design as an art form,” Debra added.
Slow Flowers Summit welcomes Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp as our profile contributor for the 2022 season. Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp is the Hoosier Gardener. She’s a 25-year, award-winning veteran of print journalism and owner of Write for You! LLC, a freelance writing and editing business. You can find her blog at hoosiergardener.com. Jo Ellen is immediate past president of GardenComm: GardenCommunicators International. She's the former editor of four regional gardening magazines. She is a garden coach and has a four-season commercial and residential container planting business. For nearly 25 years, she has worked at a large, independent garden center in Indianapolis, including a stint as buyer of perennials, trees and shrubs. A popular speaker, she has more than 50 5-star reviews at greatgardenspeakers.org.