Date: March 1, 2022 | Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Rett Peek | Styling: Steph Smith |
Alchemy Atelier has the process of preserving florals down to a fine art
With a background spanning dance, photography, textiles, and floral design, Alecia Walls-Barton is the quintessential renaissance woman. Her recent passion is visual art made from dehydrated flowers, a creative outlet she explores under the name Alchemy Atelier. “Alchemy is a term that refers to early chemistry. I like that word because it has a scientific feel but also a magical, mystical quality,” she says, likening this work to her experience in the photography darkroom. “I’ve always been drawn to historical techniques, and I find myself happiest when working through that slow, methodical process.”
Alecia’s interest in botanicals began in her mother’s flower shop. After graduating from Memphis College of Art, she joined her in the business of floral design. “I’d grown up around flowers, and I fell in love with them all over again,” she says. It was here that she started to experiment with pressings, first with deconstructed bridal bouquets and wedding arrangements. “I hated the fact that flowers had their one day and then were tossed in the trash—it felt like such a waste,” she says. With Alchemy Atelier, she uses dehydrated foliage to create framed pressings and three-dimensional works. “Like a lot of artistic pursuits, it’s not the technique that takes time to perfect—it’s the expression,” she says. “It’s all about the process for me. I get to take something that was already beautiful and extend the life of it.”
History of the Art
Though the use of dried flora in medicinal, cosmetic, and spiritual applications can be traced back through ancient history, we have the Japanese to thank for elevating the practice to an art form. Their intricately arranged pressed petals, called oshibana, became prominent in the 16th century. Preserved florals have cycled in and out of fashion ever since.
Bundles are one way Alecia arranges dried flowers for purchase. “These are something I started making for people to have a little color, texture, and interest in the home that you don’t have to take care of,” she says.
World of Wonder
Dehydrated peonies, roses, zinnias, celosia, lavender, bleached ruscus, and palm are captured under glass cloches to create intriguing art for tabletop displays. “There’s something really beautiful about being able to see it from 360 degrees,” Alecia says. “The flowers become their own little worlds in there.”
“I get to take something that was already beautiful and extend the life of it.” —Alecia Walls-Barton, Alchemy Atelier
Dry it yourself
Interested in pressing flowers at home? It’s as easy as having a heavy book, absorbent paper, and a few blooms on hand. “This is a very accessible hobby, and there are so many ways to do it,” Alecia says. She recommends finding how-to resources online and starting small. For example, practice with single petals before attempting a full bloom.
Alchemy Atelier creations can be found at alchemyatelier.com and Bella Vita Jewelry in Little Rock. Follow along on Instagram (@alchemyatelier_lr).
Pressed into Memory
Additional resources for preservation professionals
Rachel Fox of Materielle Home creates dried bouquets available by custom order. @materiellehome
SK Designs takes a more modern approach to floral preservation with resin keepsakes. skfloralpreservation.com
Myrtle & Ivy makes meaningful arrangements into framed pressings, shadow boxes, and more. myrtleandivy.com