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Mother-daughter duo win Art in Bloom awards

Cara Dolan Berry
Staff writer
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Posted 6/20/21

In any given town over the 20th century, it would be common to see a shingle dangling from a downtown business or a van touring around town embossed with the sign “So-and-So and Son,” proudly …

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Mother-daughter duo win Art in Bloom awards

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In any given town over the 20th century, it would be common to see a shingle dangling from a downtown business or a van touring around town embossed with the sign “So-and-So and Son,” proudly broadcasting a father’s pride that his son is taking over his trade. 

Approaching the end of that century, in May of 1985, Denise Goodwin opened Florist, Gifts and Gourmet, her flower shop on Main Street in Oneida, the city where she grew up.  She did not know it at the time, but she was pregnant with her daughter, Brianna, when she opened the doors; the daughter who would one day take up that mantle and make it her own, promoting her mother’s small business to the legacy she would pass down to her daughter one day.

Six years ago, about as far into the 21st century and as her mother was away from it when Blooms became a business, Brianna officially took it over, with Denise delighted to bow into the background, still working to keep the flowers fresh, but proud to watch her daughter, her protégé, make the endeavor her own.

Thus was the beginning of the story of Oneida’s mother and daughter who recently boosted the Blooms brand by BOTH placing in the Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute second “almost” bi-annual Art In Bloom: An Exhibition of Fine Art and Flowers, a floral design showcase competition attracting florists from all over the Central New York region.  The renowned cultural center in Utica hosted the horticultural fete, first held in Spring of 2018, with requisite restrictions, April 16-April 18, with some weekend events on campus, some remote and some hybrid. 

“We were aware of other museums and organizations doing their own versions of Art In Bloom and hearing how exciting they were.  In fact, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts hosted their 45 event this year,” said Barbara Kane, Museum Education Coordinator – Public Programs, for the Munson Williams Proctor Art Institute in Utica.  “It’s an exciting was to involve the community and showcase local talent through amazing floral designs inspired by works in the MWP collections.”

Kane shared that this year’s event featured 15 floral designers who selected from both works of art displayed in the MWP collections, as well as rooms in the historic Victorian Fountain Elms House, maintained by MWP and considered part of their campus and collection.  Works were selected to inspire those who attended the exhibition to flow through all the art spaces at MWP.  While the MWP team adapted the event to comport with COVID guidelines, they considered it as successful as the first year, with just shy of 1000 members of the Mohawk Valley community engaging with the event.

The event empanels a jury of experts in flowers and design to judge the entries, while those in attendance are also invited to vote for their favorite floral designs in seven categories.  Both jury and people’s choice awards in all categories were conferred. 

Of the 15 entries highlighted in the event’s gallery display, seven had commanded event awards.  Brianna, the younger Goodwin, took the Jury Award for best Traditional Design – for her complement to the Fountain Elms Bedroom.  The elder Goodwin won both the Jury Award and People’s Choice Award for Best-in-Show with her arrangement reflecting Pablo Picasso’s “Pigeon in the Nest with Eggs.”  Fair to say, Denise Goodwin unequivocally won the event’s grand prize.

“The Goodwins each have their own personal style, and that comes through in the artwork they chose and their floral interpretations,” said Kane. 

Kane went on point out that the Best-in-Show floral design by Denise Goodwin stood out in her integration of the elements of the Picasso piece into her arrangement and how well she adhered to the elements and principles of design.

“It was just a beautiful design,” said Kane.

Other winners local to the Rome Region included Village Florals of Utica, Floribunda Designs of Oneida, and Clinton Florist of Clinton.  Floral designs included in the event’s exhibition include works by Coriale Flowers and Plants, Pots and Possibilities, both of Utica, Merri-Rose Florist of Waterville, Kowalski Flowers and Amanda Mackey, a professional floral artist, both based in Whitesboro, and Lauren Weber, a floral artist affiliated with Garden Girl Studio in Rome.

While Kane shares now fielding interest in the event, which will be held again in April of 2023, from as far as the Syracuse area, she doesn’t see expanding much further than Central New York any time soon.

“I think we’d like to keep it local,” said Kane.

Of those seven local artists who won Art in Bloom awards, Blooms and Blossoms of Oneida was the only florist to win two awards, and Denise and Brianna Goodwin the only mother-daughter tandem in the field.  

As any story begins, so does the origin story of Blooms.  Why begin it?  To Denise, why floral Design?

Her answer starts with a stint in Florida where Denise worked at a health spa … across the street from a florist.  The owner used to come and do some of Denise’s fitness classes, and they got to know each other.

“I always knew I wanted to be a designer,” said Denise, “But I wasn’t sure exactly what.”

Denise saw her client designing flowers and thought, “those really look beautiful” and the seed for becoming a floral designer was planted.

When she returned home with her husband to Oneida, Denise enrolled in Morrisville College and earned her associate degree in horticulture.  She became friends with one of her professors, who helped her to imagine her future flower shop.  Denise opened Blooms right after she finished her coursework in May of 1985.  She was so engrossed in her new business that she didn’t even attend her graduation. She did not yet know that daughter, Brianna, was a bit more than a twinkle in her eye at the time.  Less than a year later, Denise was balancing her fledgling Blooms business and a new baby girl.

“Poor Brianna,” exclaimed Denise, “she was practically born in a flower box!”

When Brianna was a toddler, childcare was a challenge for the new mom and relatively new small business owner. Denise confesses that she did once make a day bed out of a flower box for Brianna to nap in.  If only by osmosis, Brianna was destined to dream up designs of her own.

And Denise noticed early on that Brianna had a keen eye for it.  

She recalls when Brianna was about 4 years old, taking her to the Johnny Appleseed Fine Furniture and Apple Orchard in Erieville.  Denise fondly describes it as a coveted generational local family outing, where the kids all looked forward to their free cup of applesauce.  But not Brianna.  Brianna was not interested in the applesauce – never liked it.  But when a staff member commented on something in the showroom and described its color as “peach,” Brianna corrected her to say, “that’s not peach?  That’s mauve!”

“That’s when I knew,” laughs Denise.

“I did try other things,” offers Brianna about her journey back to the same flower shop where she once napped as a toddler in a flower box.  “Working for someone else is different.  When I grew up with two parents who owned their own businesses (Brianna’s father runs his own construction company), that’s hard to do.”

Brianna shares that she became more interested over time.  She said she “always liked the flowers,” but also liked look at the design – the art of it.

While Denise’s top award-winning design for MWPAI’s ART IN BLOOM was more contemporary, the younger of the Goodwin creatives eclipsed the competition in the “traditional” category, where designers were tasked with creating floral designs based upon and keeping with rooms in the historic Fountain Elms House, part of the Munson Williams Proctor campus and collection.

“I enjoy Victorian homes,” said Brianna.  “I like that whole period of Italian Rocca – really fancy,  princess-y looking furniture … I just love it.”

“There is such attention to detail; intricacy,” said Brianna of Victorian houses, “There is design to them, even down to the door knobs.”

Denise volunteers that her daughter’s unique affinity for older houses may have been inspired by her bringing Brianna with her to antique shows and shops.  A favorite haunt of the mother, Goodwin.

“I was literally dragged to them,” laughed Brianna.  And her mother laughed, too.

“Now, I’ll just see something that others would see as junk,” said Brianna, “And I think to myself, what a cool table that would be?”

When it comes to floral design, people come in expecting a traditional style.  Brianna knows she can change it up a little bit, but not too much.  Blooms, though, will push the boundaries whenever they can.

Denise glows when speaking of her daughter’s achievements and aspirations, kindred in her passion for both flowers and design.  But she softens as she shares the reservations she had about Brianna following in her flower-loving footsteps.

“A little bit of me was reluctant,” confessed Denise.  “I remembered the struggle over the early years starting the business from scratch.”

And while honored that her daughter might run Blooms one day, Denise wanted what every parent wants, for her daughter to follow her own dreams and passions … find her own happiness.

“But she really just took over,” said Denise of Brianna reaching for the reins and becoming the official owner of Blooms, “and brought in all of her new ideas!”

Denise describes herself as a “traditionalist” but doesn’t limit herself.  She feels she has passed that on to her daughter.  She hopes she has … taught her to never limit herself.

“My version of Blooms sold gifts and silk flowers,” Denise offers as an example of the transition to Brianna’s vision, “Brianna pointed out that big box craft stores like Michaels sell a larger variety of silk flowers for next to nothing.”  

Denise shared that new “curio” feel to the shop, that brings you through the door and flows you through unique spaces that feel like rooms, rich with scents and stuff ranging from a antique furniture to tin pails posing as vases, to vintage signage, to classic artwork … and flowers … all galvanized by Brianna’s design, every cranny and corner.

“I always loved doing the window,” offered Brianna.

Brianna shares realizing at young age that she had a knack for merchandising, in terms of presentation and layout and focal point guiding the customer’s eye where you want it to go.  Denise recalls Brianna loving to fiddle with the front window displays.

“You have to try it or you don’t know,” said Brianna.

Stay tuned for the upcoming Blooms window display – which will feature replicas of the mother and daughter’s winning floral designs at ART IN BLOOM, recreated with silk flowers and set off by accents reflecting the art and period that inspired them.

Another idea Brianna hatched up, over years of waiting for the neighboring insurance company to move out, was interactive floral design that engaged the community.  Their neighboring business did recently move out and Blooms took over the space and turned it into a Floral Design DIY Studio-slash-Design Bar … for flowers and such.  If you imagine the paint-and-sip paradigm - gatherings of friends around art and craft - the mother and daughter imagine the same.  They conduct workshops with dedicated themes, but the space can also be reserved/rented for a group of friends around a a chosen theme.  They call the adjacent studio “Mae B’s” – an homage to Brianna’s grandmother and Denise’s mother, Mae, with the B for Brianna - and it opened its doors just before the Munson Williams Proctor competition and show.

For example, they host brides and bridesmaids who come in to design and create the wedding bouquets.   And Brianna helps them.

Denise added that Brianna was “infatuated with BRIDES!”

“It’s just so elegant,” Brianna agreed.  “When you do a wedding, you get to do something extravagant.  Special.”

As for Mae B’s, Brianna’s vision for it is of simple pleasures.

“If you can fill a room with friends,” say the proprietors, “you can do a Mae B’s event.”

When asked about the impact of COVID on their Blooms business, Denise cautiously offered that things are getting better.  But numbers are still down, as events such as showers and weddings are being done on a smaller scale this year.

“But fall is very busy,” said Denise, “so book your florists in advance!”

Brianna had an answer when re-opening favored outdoor events and activities – she added a touch of outreach to the business and brought Blooms’ unique take on flowers and vintage “stuff” to the community.   That’s how “Lucy” was added to the Blooms family.

“My original idea was just a rusty old truck,” recalled Brianna, who ended up with a vintage, 1948 Chevy pick-up, painted classic red. Not to forget her paternal grandmother, Brianna named “Lucy” for her.  Lucy brings Blooms and their blossoms to flea and farmer’s markets and other events.  Where Brianna’s flare for merchandising shines again, Lucy is building the Blooms “brand” and bringing it to the people.

Denise reflected on a number of local florists going out of business in recent years, some due to retirement, others failing to survive the last couple economic downturns.  The mother hopes the daughter’s out-of-the-box approach and innovative ideas will see Blooms through the hardships and keep the flowers growing.

When asked what advice she’d give her daughter as she takes on a lesser role while Brianna pens the coming chapters of the Blooms story, Denise replied – to her daughter – “Give service.  And follow your heart.”

“We’ve always tried to be the exception,” said Denise. “We don’t want to be the ordinary.  We want to be the extraordinary.”

Denise shared her pride when happy customers effuse that she’s gone above and beyond, and her feeling when she thinks to herself, “I nailed it!”

Looking poignantly and proudly at Brianna, Denise continued, “I don’t ever want you to lose that.”

Brianna, effusive and self-possessed when speaking of her journey and her passion for her work, became a bit shy when asked what she takes with her from her mother, joking that she was “not mushy like that.”

But the daughter went on to share this with her mother and mentor…

“I am thankful that you shared with me – taught me – this special skill that I now have … that other people don’t.”

As for Blooms, Brianna boasts that it never looks the same from day to week.  

“I’m always doing crazy things,” said Brianna with smile.

“And that drives me crazy,” exclaimed Denise.

Both ladies laughed together as Brianna shared, and Denise sympathized, that she will go up to a worker or her mother in real time and say, “I have a great idea!”

Brianna’s recent “great idea” – Lucy the red, ’48 Chevy pick-up – will be bringing “Blooms” to next week’s Oneida Farmer’s Market – held every Tuesday on the Oneida Historical Society grounds from 3 to 8 pm, just kitty corner across the street from their shop on Main.

When asked why they weren’t there for the season-opening market this Tuesday, Brianna pointed out that it was raining.

“Lucy doesn’t like rain,” she winked.

And so the “Denise and Daughter” take on the traditional generational family business evolves and “grows” on.

Denise now identifies as the “founder” of Blooms and is quick to point to Brianna as the “owner.” 

“I did the first 30 years,” said Denise – so proudly.  “She’ll do the next 30.”

Blooms and Blossoms is located at 234 Main Street in Oneida, NY and are open for business Monday through Friday, 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday 9 am to 2 pm, and closed Sundays.  Mae B’s Handcrafted, at 232 Main Street, is open to the public during the same hours.  Private events are scheduled individually.

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