Flower sculptures designed by local artists for the National Cherry Blossom Festival are a must-see.
by Julia Chance
Recently, while walking down 4th St. N.W. near the Takoma Park Metro station, I came upon a large flower sculpture adorned with playful red hearts, polka dots, wavy stripes, and biomorphic designs. Bruce Guthrie, a photographer who was busy snapping pictures of it, must have seen the curious expression on my face because he came over to me and explained that the sculpture is one of several painted by various artists for the National Cherry Blossom Festival (NCBF) Art in Bloom exhibit, taking place throughout the Washington metropolitan area. Perhaps you’ve seen them, too.
Inspired by the colorful “Party Animals” and “PandaMania” sculptures that the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities sprinkled around the city during the early aughts, NCBF planners thought that large cherry blossom sculptures would be a ideal for this year’s festivities. “We’ve had different art exhibitions throughout the years, but we’ve never done anything like this,” says Diana Mayhew, NCBF president and CEO. “Our goal was to bring the celebration to the residents.”
Back in January, the organization put out a call inviting artists to submit their vision for the sculptures. They were encouraged to come up with dynamic, eye-catching designs that people would want to venture out to see. They could even include decorative embellishments or appendages provided that the materials they used could withstand human weight and Mother Nature.
Judging the entries was no easy feat, Mayhew says. “We had exactly 139 entries that went through a judging panel and we got it down to 26 [accepted designs].” Twenty-five artists were selected to decorate the 5 foot, fiberglass and steel structures, 23 of which sit in all of DC’s eight wards with two at National Landing and one at National Harbor.
Hiba Alyawer, one of the artists selected, says it was her 2021 New Year’s wish was to have a sculpture in D.C. She learned about Art in Bloom when a friend messaged her on Instagram on the day of the deadline. Initially, she thought she had to design an actual sculpture and began doing so. “Then I realized, eight hours before the deadline, that it was not a sculpture I had to design, just what I would paint onto one. I got two submissions in five minutes before the deadline.”
In a delightful twist of fate, Alyawer’s colorful Happy Dots sculpture was not placed in D.C. after all, but in Crystal City Water Park within walking distance from Booz Alan Hamilton where she works as a data scientist. “I go to visit it often, and seeing the reactions of people has been absolutely wonderful,” she says. “A person posted on Facebook that they were having a bad day. They went for a run, saw the sculpture, and it made them happy. This, to me, is just heartwarming.”
Though muralist Andrew Funk has landmark works around the DMV—like the recent addition to 3Stars Brewing Company and the restored Marilyn Monroe mural on Calvert Street in Woodley Park—he says having two designs accepted for Art in Bloom was a big deal. “It’s cool to do public work that’s more high profile, and watching a whole crew install it was pretty neat.”
For Cherry Tattoo, at 11th & I Sts. NW (City Center DC plaza), funk painted bold cherry blossoms that are similar in style to the way the flowers are traditionally depicted in classic Japanese style tattoos. “They’re simplified and a little bit more geometric obviously than natural cherry blossoms are, but the idea is so that they’re bold and bright,” says the artist.
The Message, at 1100 Michigan Ave. NE (Turkey Thicket Recreation Center), is a nod to Funk’s appreciation for the vibrant New York-style graffiti of the 1980s and ‘90s. “The title of is the name of a famous hip-hop song by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five,” he says. The top petal of the sculpture is inscribed with the verse “…to bring some lovin’ here today,” from the 1971 Marvin Gaye hit “What’s Going On.”
“I wanted to put in a quote that would have meaning to the city and the kids in the neighborhood,” Funk says. “It’s a great song and has a good message, especially with how crazy the last year was. And Marvin Gaye is from D.C.”
You can go on a Blossom Hunt, using the map found here, and see these dynamic sculptures for yourself. While there, snap some pictures and post them on Instagram or Twitter using the tag @CherryBlossFest with the hashtag #ArtInBloom for a chance to win prizes. “Each week we’re picking one photo entry at random to get a festival surprise pack as well as a $25 gift card from Amazon,” says Mayhew. “At the end of it all on May 31, all entries will then be eligible for a $500 Amazon gift card.” See detailed contest rules here.
Cherry blossom sculptures aren’t the only things that are getting a paint job for the Cherry Blossom Festival. On Saturday, April 10, and Sunday, April 11, a fleet of Toyota vehicles painted by various artists will cruise along DMV roadways for the inaugural Petal Procession presented by Amazon, one of the festival’s sponsors. For more festival events, check here.