Recap: Art Alive 2023 Rotunda Installation

Natalie Gill admiring the Rotunda Art Installation at the San Diego Museum of Art

This year, Native Poppy's founder Natalie Gill was selected to design and execute a two-story floral installation for San Diego Museum of Art’s annual Art Alive fundraiser.

This floral installation in the museum's rotunda was installed by 15 florists over three days (not to mention the two weeks of prepping materials, and months of planning the design). The multi-floor installation used 7,000 carnations, 45 tumbleweeds, three types of blooming branches, spray-painted and preserved Pegee hydrangea, 400 bunches of spray-painted baby’s breath, and dozens of show-stopping orchids and anthurium. This incredible installation design bloomed from Natalie’s vision for the historic museum's space.

“My favorite thing about creating the rotunda installation was that we had three whole days to set up the install,” says Natalie. “Normally we only have a few hours to install our floral designs at weddings and events, but here we were able to stand back and really take a look at what was working, to look at placement and make any necessary tweaks — that made it a really exciting creative experience.”

Florist adjusts hanging tumbleweeds in the Rotunda Art Installation at SDMA

Orchids in bucket with water capsules

Natalie’s floral design expertise allowed her to plan and execute the rotunda art installation with precision and grace. She carefully selected each flower variety, considering not only their color and texture, but also how they would last over the four-day viewing period at the museum. 

As the installation evolved over the four days it was on display, the natural process of drying and “dying” of the ingredients became an integral part of the art. This transformation was not a flaw but a deliberate aspect of the design, reminding the viewers that floral art is fragile and fleeting. A florist’s medium is typically perishable, unlike the works of art displayed alongside the installation, sculptures and paintings made long ago. During a conversation at the museum with fellow-featured Art Alive artist, Amanda Witucki, she aptly described this process as “patina-ing,” highlighting the beauty in the changing appearance of the florals, much like how metal develops a patina over time. Natalie’s approach, embracing the organic changes that occurred to the installation, created a truly stunning and memorable work of art.  

Floral Rotunda Art Installation at the San Diego Museum of Art

“Looking back on it a couple weeks later, seeing the vision come together in my head came out even better than I thought it could.” said Natalie. “I knew I wanted to incorporate these spray painted tumbleweeds as the base, because it was a really organic beautiful shape.” 

Natalie has a soft spot for carnations, and took inspiration from the floral carnation backdrop she created for her own wedding.  “The carnation garlands for Art Alive came out exactly like the rendering I created, possibly even better than I imagined. It was just insane that I had these visions in my head of denser clouds and these dripping chandeliers of carnation garlands. I think some of the specific flower moments were that I love carnation garlands, I’m obsessed.”

“The purple symphony orchid moment that we did for the installation, was just so cool to do. We put the orchids and carnations on wires in these random shapes,” says Natalie.

Hanging rotunda Art Installation at the San Diego Museum of Art

Installing the rigging was a daunting project for our lead gardener and mechanical engineer Margaret Roche, with the help of another frequent collaborator, artist Ashley Renuart. Rigging this masterpiece took three days – hanging each wire to connect the dots, so that the installation draped and intertwined across the rotunda in a magical way. This process had our florists dancing around each other with not one, but TWO scissor lifts. Tourists, visitors, and patrons got to witness this process first hand during the first two days of the installation process, a real sight to see. In fact, one of the museum docents mentioned that most visitors audibly gasped when they walked in. 

Natalie's baby daughter at Art Alive 2023

“This feat would have been impressive for any artist,” said Native Poppy co-owner and Vice President Meg Blancato, “But add to the fact that Natalie was directing this installation while nursing her 9 week-old baby girl, and it really puts into perspective how much of herself she put into this project.”

The process definitely paid off! The end result was a breathtaking display that left museum visitors, chair members, and the other participating artists in awe.

Orchids in front of San Diego Museum of Art and scissor lift in art museum

While the artistry of the rotunda was an expression of Natalie’s creativity, she explains that none of this would be possible without the team of trusted helpers who contributed their time and artistic abilities in each component of this piece. 

Natalie Gill at Art Alive Installation at the San Diego Museum of Art

“Another highlight from creating the rotunda installation: I absolutely loved being able to work with my friends.” - Natalie

“I got to include freelance florists that I have been working with for years,"said Natalie. "We have Ashley Renuart who does the installs at our store. Yeritza, who works for us on weddings and events, as well as shop holidays that really help us through our busy seasons. Meg was even there to help with her critical eye and also helped create arrangements for the entirety of the SDMA install," she said.

"Jaz Tinsley from Flower Boy Co. who has helped on a multitude of weddings, events, and some of the busiest flower holidays of the season; Rebecca Eichten was there, who also painted the mural on the front of our South Park store; our lead event florist Anastasiia, and engineering superstar Margaret; one of our florists Leila came back from college to help; plus Leili who is an amazing support; I even got to work with my friend Katherine who used to own the floral shop Root 75 in Coronado," said Natalie. 

"Looking back on it there were a lot of laughs and a lot of artistic collaboration," she reflected. "I got to work with people who I genuinely care about, and are all amazing floral artists in their own right. We were able to create something really cool together. So it was a pleasure all around," said Natalie.

Florist installing Art Alive install at San Diego Museum of Art on scissor lift

Thanks to those who visited the installation, Art Alive 2023 festivities were enjoyed by 12,000 people, including a members preview that raised the San Diego Museum of Art $1.1 million for Museum programming and which will support cultural and educational programs for children and adults. Talk about an incredible opportunity for the arts and floral industry! This was the most visited rotunda design ever and it was such a pleasure for Natalie and the team of floral designers to be a part of this extraordinary exhibit. 

“One benefit from doing this rotunda installation was that it further connected me with people that I admire. Getting the opportunity to showcase my work among a lot of amazing artists that I admire, was incredible. Someone I really idolize is Steve Moore who owns a company called Sinclaire and Moore. I’ve admired his work forever, his work is so perfect and he's so detail oriented, and by doing this he saw our installation and took the time out of his day to comment on it and said that it was very inspiring. I pinched myself because I was so honored and excited to hear from someone I've idolized for so long,” says Natalie.

Rotunda Art Installation at the San Diego Museum of Art

“This bolsters my idea that Native Poppy can do really big things and that we have the team and the manpower to pull off large scale installations. It’s my hope that with this art installation, we will have more opportunities to do large scale events like this,” said Natalie.

“I want to continue doing more beautiful installations like this for people to experience,” says Natalie. 

Rotunda Art Installation at the San Diego Museum of Art

Experiencing a work of art is emotional, and when it’s flowers, it only heightens your response. That’s why we do what we do. Large or small, we’re creating art to further our mission: sharing love through the power of flowers.

Rotunda Art Installation at the San Diego Museum of Art

Natalie, Meg and the Native Poppy team are so grateful to everyone who took the time to visit their creation at the San Diego Museum of Art’s 2023 Art Alive exhibition. Your support means the world to us, and we look forward to creating more magical moments for future events. We can’t wait for what’s next.