• Jennifer Campbell

About My Craft

My interest in the Victorian Language of Flowers began with an obsession with my garden (see below), attending and planning every detail. And when I wasn’t in the garden or pouring over books or plant catalogs, I wanted to be in an antique store, losing myself in some dusty but charming and beautiful past.

I’m compelled by everything that fascinated the Victorians- cottage life, flower parts, how insects really seem to be fairies; Alice and Wonderland, the power of imagination, the miniature.

In an era on the brink of modernism, people felt intimately connected to nature; as rustic as their homes may have been, there was a purity and innocence in the pastoral that contrasted with the grimy industrial cities and towns. Nature was seen as a reflection of the Divine as well as human qualities- whether in a sentimental nostalgia for childhood, or revulsion for the sexuality of the biological world.

My two favorite Victorian illustrators are J.J. Grandville, the French cartoonist, for his drawings “Flowers Personified;” and Kate Greenaway for her illustrations of the Language of Flowers. Kate’s drawings appeal to my idealism, but Grandville’s are edgy, sometimes even unsettling and a little scary. I really like this, but have had trouble selling some of my animal pieces; I once had a White Rabbit Brooch returned by a man who felt the rabbit’s expression was “inappropriate.”

In 2007 I started Floriography with a series of limited edition Tussie Mussie brooches inspired by the Victorian practice of assembling bouquets that served as discreet conversations. The walls of my studio were covered with vintage postcards of flowers, landscapes and children, with old-fashioned written sentiments. Since then the line has expanded to include animals and insects as well as characters from beloved childhood stories- Alice, Dorothy, and Peter Rabbit.

The Dreihaus Museum in Chicago hosted an exhibition last year called “Maker and Muse, Women and Early Twentieth Century Art Jewelry,” which featured pieces by Rene Lalique, my favorite artist of the Art Nouveau period and my very first inspiration as a jewelry designer thirty years ago. His work is so exquisite, inspired by the female form and natural imagery.

To see his work in person is an emotional experience for me. What I wouldn’t give to don one of his headpieces, drape myself in his necklaces, and attend an Art Nouveau ball in Paris! I dream of being reincarnated as one of his wealthy benefactors.

The exhibition also featured the work of female artists, including Julia Munson, the first director of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s jewelry department in 1902. But what struck me as the most relevant was the Suffragist jewelry, featuring the movement’s official colors- green (hope), white (purity), and violet (dignity).

Timely, not only because of the current film “Suffragette,” and worldwide struggles for female equality, but also when there is so much jewelry around that purports to mean something (power bracelets, symbolic charms, semi-precious stones). Our modern desire for self- expression through symbols brings the Language of Flowers full circle.

As we begin a new year, I’d like to offer the suggestion of “Thoughts;” as our thoughts turn to loved ones, or to a certain cause we’re invested in to try and make this world a better place.

#gardens #inspiration