A county gardener will make art bloom at the Walters Art Gallery next week.

The Baltimore museum invited Mary Ellen Bay and 29 other gardeners from the metropolitan area to interpret its paintings through fresh floral arrangements.

Bay will create an arrangement to match a still life painting by Adam Bernardt, a 16th-century Dutch artist.

"Interpreting doesn't mean matching," she said of her assigned painting, which has no flowers. "The arranger uses flowers to depict the artist's symbolism, picking up on colors, lines or rhythm."

Sometimes the symbolism of a flower is evident, she said, as in a rose for peace.

She plans to use a red hanging orchid in the arrangement to symbolize the falling coins in Bernardt's painting.

Since taking on this task, Bay said she has studied the artist. She said he had a great respect for the things of this earth.

"Even in the 16th century, this man thought people weren't doing the best they could with the world," she said.

With a lifelong interest in flowers and growing, she said she wants to show how to make the world a little more beautiful.

Known for five paintings, all with a similar subject matter of books and globes, Bernardt painted in the "vanitas" style, portraying the transient nature of life.

Bay said he moralized with his art.

"His message is that everything in this world passes," said Bay.

Using a leather-covered box planter for her base, she plans to copy the "time concept" in her arrangement by making circular forms out of plant material.Her arrangement will be titled "Time, Time Again."

"The theme will be time which destroys everything, will destroy beauty first," she said.

Bay is donating her time and talent. The Carroll Garden Club, of which she is a member and past president, will pay for the flowers and materials.

"It's too soon in the season for my own flowers,which I prefer to use," she said.

Once her "cutting" garden blooms, though, she can pick and choose from several varieties, arranged in "rows and rows." At the entrance hangs a sign with a quote from Goethe, "And make of this world a garden."

She also plants a vegetable garden on the 60-acre farm where she lives with her husband, Walter, the regional director for the University of Maryland Extension Service.

She said she has been growing and arranging flowers since hergirlhood and 4-H days in Queen Anne's County. She earned a bachelor's degree of fine arts from the Maryland Institute in Baltimore and is a nationally accredited flower show judge.

Creating an arrangement in a museum full of irreplaceable art is a complicated task, she said. Especially since she prefers tall groupings, some as high as 6 feet.

Floral designers Susan Leahy and Sharon Johnson of Westminster will lend helping hands and work at the Walters with her the day before the April 2 opening of the exhibit.

Designers must carry allmaterials by hand, taking care not to poke anything. They also must be sure their plants are insect-free.

They must select flowers which will last three days. The museum will not allow any water in the displays, fearing it could splash the paintings.

"I went last yearas a spectator and was impressed," she said. "I m thrilled to be asked back as an exhibitor."

The event, which raises money for museumprojects, includes lectures and a luncheon. Cost is $45 for the entire day. The public also may see "Art Blooms at the Walters" on April 3 for the $2 cost of admission to the museum. Information: 547-9000.

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