Camellia, gardenia, and magnolia blossoms are living symbols of the South, and New Orleans artist Suzonne Stirling memorializes their beauty in stunning detail—not in paint or pastels, but in exquisitely colored, cut, and assembled crepe and tissue paper. “I make paper flowers because they make me happy, almost as much as the real thing,” she says.
Stirling fell in love with the art form on a trip to Europe, and has been studying the history since. “The Chinese started making paper flowers as religious offerings,” Stirling says. “After the Spanish Conquest, when tissue paper made its way from China to Mexico, paper flowers were made to decorate churches when natural flowers weren’t available, and the techniques were passed down from generation to generation. Paper flowers began to gain prominence again during Victorian times and techniques haven’t changed all that much.”
Today, Stirling works like artists of old, cutting intricate leaf and petal templates and using paints, pastels, alcohol inks, and even bleach to color all manner of flora, from heirloom roses to apple blossoms. But she is most drawn to Southern subjects. “Though I’ve spent almost half my life in Los Angeles and New York, I am a Southerner through and through,” she says. “I often joke that I moved back to New Orleans just for the landscape. I have vivid memories of the waxy smell of the magnolia, the way the scent of the gardenia bush outside my bedroom window hung in the humidity, the delicious thrill of night-blooming jasmine, the nectar of the honeysuckle blossom. I think the South has one of the most romantic landscapes on earth, I want to capture that elusive beauty.”
This fall, Stirling is hard at work on dahlias and has plans for a paper bug series, too. A single stem with foliage starts at $23; and custom-commisioned pieces are available, too. To order, visit her website.
“Every flower is unique in some way,” Stirling says, “and it’s magical when something blooms from your own hands and sparks joy.”