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Flowers of Freedom

The patriotism of petals

By Emilee Phillips
Photographs by John Gessner

A rose is a rose is a rose.
And a flag is more than dyed fabric.
Together they can evoke emotions filled with
symbolism, lifting and carrying their
message with it.

“I wanted to show the strength of an American flag but in a softer, more feminine way,” says Katie Tischler, a military spouse with a love of the outdoors who creates botanical art she dubs “Blossoms of Patriotism.”

The idea wasn’t born overnight. An old scrapbook filled with papers, photos and a single rose cemented itself in Tischler’s childhood memories. Puzzled at first by their commonplace nature, it took her a moment to realize it was a flower her dad had given her mom, kept as a memento of love. “It was brown by the time I saw it,” says Tischler, “but it was sweet when I saw it as a young girl, to see that they kept that.”

Now a card-carrying, certifiable, sentimental romantic, Tischler’s trade elevates pressed flowers to an art form. Her business, Pine Pressed Flowers, preserves flowers from any occasion. She began the business in 2019 preserving bouquets from weddings, funerals or any milestone with deep, personal meaning. Some of her work is simply for aesthetic purposes, but roughly 90 percent of her business consists of custom orders arising from these watershed events.

“Life is short, and there are only so many big days,” says Tischler. Her philosophy: If you want to preserve a memory, just do it.

The process is simple. You pick your frame size and floral layout, be it bouquet style, deconstructed or abstract, then in a few months, voilà, you’ll be met with a work of art. “I love the less literal, more organic look,” says Tischler.

The craft of pressing flowers demands four to six weeks of careful handling and rotating. In a world of instant gratification, the slow, precise technique adds to its charm.

Tischler’s floral flags take months to construct, between scavenging for the perfect assortment of flowers, pressing them and delicately arranging them. Each part of the flag, like a flower, serves its purpose. Each has its meaning. Tischler is mindful in her construction and searches for flowers that are local, typically trying to add dogwoods — the North Carolina state flower — to her flags.

Start to finish, flowers undergo subtle color transformations in the pressing process, rendering the creation of her floral flags particularly challenging. Tischler doesn’t use dyes to achieve her red, white and blue hues. To date she’s made five flags, the first of which was donated for a charity gala for the nonprofit Shields & Stripes.

“Each of the flags are all so different, if you look closely,” Tischler says. Staring at one is like staring at a mesmerizing kaleidoscope and spotting something new each time you come back to it.

A typical week begins with the more mundane routines of processing flowers, documenting, collecting and labeling. But, later in the week, her creative headspace kicks in. Tischler doesn’t do layouts prior to constructing. She adopts the organized chaos of nature and just begins gluing. “I feel more free without a roadmap,” she says.

The routine in her home studio begins with a hot cup of herbal tea and noise-canceling headphones. The workspace is filled with hundreds of handmade wooden flower presses. “My husband cut wood for weeks,” she says with a laugh. The walls are adorned with glass panes of clients’ memories filled with every type of flower imaginable. Each flower takes time to deconstruct, keeping in mind it will need to be reassembled later on.

Tiny, delicate frames adorn one of the walls of the sunroom, each cradling a single pressed flower from a distant land. “Every time my husband deploys he brings me back a flower,” Tischler says, smiling. One of those “contraband” flowers found its place between the pages of a medical book that he had tucked away beneath his mattress until he returned. “He claims not to be sentimental,” she says. But the flowers say otherwise.

Thrifted books have become a favorite way for Tischler to press flowers, especially for personal projects, as the sturdy old pages drink in the essence of the blooms with their superior absorbency.

Each piece she makes includes a certificate of authenticity and a “best practices” guide for preservation — it’d be a shame for your art to brown from overexposure to direct sunlight. On the back of the guide is an Aristotle quote she includes with every keepsake: “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

Included with each floral flag’s certificate of authenticity is a detailed list of all the flowers the frame holds. “I think it’s important to show your patriotism,” Tischler says. “I wanted to do it in a way that was my own.  PS

Emilee Phillips is PineStraw’s director of social media and digital content.