Hollywood comes to the Walters

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When Hollywood insiders throw a party, many call on floral designer Walter Hubert to help them create an event to remember.

His Los Angeles area studio, Silver Birches, has been tapped by some of the entertainment industry's most prominent personalities to design the decor for high-profile events, from movie premieres to celebrity weddings.

With unfettered imagination, Hubert takes advantage of nature's palette of colors and materials to create floral works of art. Though much of his work is tailored for the performance arts milieu, Hubert says, nature offers limitless potential for creating an environment suited to any event, no matter how simple or extravagant.

Hubert will share some of the secrets of his craft March 4 at the Walters Art Museum. His lecture and demonstration is part of the "Art Blooms at the Walters" 2002 fund-raiser organized by the museum's Women's Committee.

Working with an assistant, Hubert will use flowers and other organic materials, along with fabric, light and sound, to create an atmosphere.

"At the end of the presentation, what will be seen is a whole 'painting' the size of the stage, from side to side, top to bottom," he said.

As he works through his 90-minute presentation, Hubert will answer audience questions and offer tips on how to work with flowers and other natural materials to create artful arrangements.

Hubert was chosen to speak because of his unique approach to floral design, said Chichi Bosworth, co-chair of the "Art Blooms" committee. He also is the first "Art Blooms" speaker from the West Coast.

"We've had speakers in the past, mainly from the East Coast and England," Bosworth said. "We thought it would be nice to have a West Coast approach to flower arranging."

"His work is always very striking and memorable," she said. "He's not just a flower arranger. He looks at flowers as one important visual part of an event. He's really an event planner and designer who uses flowers as a component of an entire event."

Scholar, author, lecturer

Hubert, 52, earned a master's degree in fine arts from the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to teach painting, drawing and design to college students in England and the United States. A lecturer on the museum circuit throughout the country, he has worked as a professional designer for 25 years.

With a background in interior design and a gift for innovative floral productions, Hubert has worked his way into the high-profile celebrity and corporate worlds, where he has created floral designs for a range of settings, from museum shows to celebrity weddings and corporate parties.

His client list includes plenty of Hollywood notables, such as Steven Spielberg, Bruce Springsteen, Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, as well as corporate powerhouses like BMW, Cartier and MGM.

Hubert also is the author of Naked Flowers Exposed, a picture book featuring the work of nationally recognized photographers like Herb Kitts, Bruce Weber, Walter Chin and Sofia Coppola.

Hubert also has worked as a set decorator for fashion photographers and a stage designer for several touring performers, including Natalie Cole (she wanted "huge" arrangements of white lilies), and has designed award-winning floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade.

His association with famous clients has brought Hubert attention from national publications, including Harper's Bazaar, InStyle and Vanity Fair.

Hollywood parties

Hubert attributes his popularity to his ability to interpret his clients' objectives and translate them into an "experience" for the senses. He strives to personalize each event with designs that reflect the image of the client.

Though confidentiality contracts prohibit him from revealing specifics about many of his clients, Hubert offers a glimpse at the personalities of some of the Hollywood glitterati who have employed his talent.

"Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt collect 1950s furniture, so the look they wanted for their party was something sleek and clean that went with the lines of furniture from that era," Hubert said. Designing floral displays for actor Kelsey Grammer's wedding, was "great fun," he said. "They didn't have specific ideas about what they wanted, so they left it up to me to do whatever, and lots of it."

Hubert also designed a bedside bouquet for Elizabeth Taylor, ordered by an unnamed friend of the film star. The $600 bouquet of 200 lilies of the valley "wasn't much bigger than a teacup," he said.

At lavish Academy Award parties, Hubert sets up "craft stations" where guests create their own floral jewelry.

"It's kind of an unusual thing to do. I set up right in the middle of parties and guests string tiny roses on monofilament and make their own necklaces and wristlets to wear for the evening," he said.

"My clientele patronizes us for different reasons," he said. "We all have a sense of values, or a sense of style. Everybody's different, and we try to illustrate their individuality while staying on the cutting edge of design."

In short, flowers talk. And it's Hubert's goal to get them to say just the right thing.

It's a knack he hopes to pass on to his audience during his presentations.

"I'll explain how to prepare flowers, the kinds of containers to use, and how to compose with those flowers to make a statement, whether you're creating a centerpiece for yourself or a gift for somebody else."

Floral arrangements need not be complicated, Hubert said.

"Ten stems of gladiolas in the right vase can often be more impressive than a vase of mixed flowers," he said.

Hubert has cultivated his artistry since childhood, and in addition to floral design, he is an accomplished landscape designer and avid backyard gardener.

"I love what I do," he said. "I love flowers and the other materials I work with."

Tips for beginners

Though floral design is his passion as well as his business, Hubert recognizes that many people may be intimidated by the very thought of creating an artful floral arrangement. But even the least experienced dabbler can enjoy success by following some of his simple tips.

For one, choose flowers that will be at their peak when guests see them.

"You may need to buy them a few days in advance of your event if you're getting them in bud. Take the time to learn about the life span of a flower, so you can gauge when it will be looking its best," he said. "I don't think flowers look their best in bud, but sometimes it may be desirable to present them that way. For example, if you're making an arrangement for someone who is hospitalized or otherwise confined, they might appreciate seeing the flowers as they open."

He suggests incorporating other natural materials, like seedpods, fruits or branches, to complement cut flowers and infuse seasonal qualities into an arrangement. And don't overlook ornamental grasses and weeds like Queen Anne's lace, chicory and even dandelions.

"It's really fun to work with the whole range of organic materials, whatever is in season, to impart a sense of style," Hubert said. "Use materials that are indigenous to your geographic area. Choose varieties of flowers that are appropriate for the season, in colors that reflect the season and work well in the environment where the arrangement will be placed. It doesn't have to be a complicated design to have a pleasing visual impact."

"Art Blooms at the Walters" begins Saturday at the renovated Centre Street building.

* A black-tie gala ($175 per person) and live auction start at 7 p.m. on Saturday.

* James van Sweden, a prominent landscape architect and author who recently was awarded the commission for landscape design at the World War II memorial in Washington, will speak about the architecture of gardens at 3 p.m. next Sunday. Tickets to the lecture and wine reception are $60.

* Floral designer Walter Hubert offers two 90-minute presentations on March 4, beginning at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Tickets to the morning lecture are $50. An optional seated luncheon ($25) follows the program. Tickets to Hubert's afternoon program, followed by tea, are $60.

"Art Blooms" also features floral displays with docent interpretations from noon to 4 p.m. next Sunday and at 11:30 and 2 p.m. March 4.

For more information, call 410-547-9000.

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