Long ago I drank the Kool-Aid known as Stylized Ornament. In my powder room, I hung a Bradbury & Bradbury adaptation of Walter Crane’s wallpaper frieze. Punctuated by repeating cattails, the lancet leaves of the lovely flattened irises create an endless row of arches. When I sit in the little room, eyes focused on the up-and-down of the fleur-de-lys flower heads, my brain waves regulate likewise. (I think most women who’ve had children go to the bathroom to calm down.)
I itch, however, when I sit on floral upholstery.
I’ve been brainwashed, I’m sure, by years of exposure to Crane, William Morris, Bruce Talbert, and Charles Locke Eastlake: English Art Movement tastemakers who insisted that the flatness of a wall, a floor, or a chair-back be respected, that it be dressed with stylized or geometric ornament, and never a shaded, three-dimensional, representational design. Rennie Mackintosh, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright followed suit; Stickley’s embroidery and stencils too are conventionalized. Designs often are inspired by the forms of nature, but they are not “natural.”
Then again, I may have been born this way. In dim memory, before kindergarten even, I see a liver-color carpet of cabbage roses, though I would not have known to call them that. The carpet made me sad in the part of my child’s brain that was already old. I did not want to tread on giant roses, nor did I want to sit on them, nor have them leer at me from the wallpaper.
This month I had a routine day procedure at the hospital. I always feel tranquil in the hospital, another place mothers go to get some rest. The nurse pulled the privacy curtain along its track, and I saw the pattern: flamboyant cabbage roses in pink and navy, bleached by fluorescent lighting. Soon I was under, dreaming, I hope, of Christopher Dresser.
10 Harbor Rd., Gloucester, MA 01930