Linking Indoors to Outdoors: Fall Chrysanthemum Show Features Student Ikebana Display

Smith senior Suzu Sakai, shown here amidst some cascading "mums" at the Smith Botanic Garden, created a Japanese ikebana display for this year's Chrysanthemum Show. Photo by Isabella Casini '17

This year’s Fall Chrysanthemum Show, opening Saturday, Nov. 7, offers a new way to enjoy the beauty of flowers. Some exciting additions are Japanese ikebana flower arrangements designed by Smith students.

Suzu Sakai ’16 has not only designed the display, but will be leading workshops for 20 students who signed up to learn more about ikebana, a floral art form that emphasizes form and balance.

Another Smithie, Alexandria Simpson ’17, has created some of the ceramic pots used to hold the flower arrangements.

The Chrysanthemum Show, a tradition at Smith since the early 1900s, showcases a burst of colorful “mums”—some of them more than five feet tall—cascading down greenhouse walls as fall colors start to fade outdoors. This year’s show, which includes hybrid mums created by Smith students, will be on view from Saturday, Nov. 7, to Sunday, Nov. 22, in Lyman Conservatory. The suggested donation is $5.

Jesse Bellemare, assistant professor of biological sciences, will launch the show with a lecture Friday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the Campus Center Carroll Room. Bellemare’s talk, “Horticultural Insights Into Plant Conservation and Climate Change,” is free and open to the public. A reception and preview of the show at the Lyman Conservatory follows the lecture.

Ikebana, which means flower arranging in Japanese, is considered an art form like painting or drawing, Sakai says. The tradition reflects a society that values closeness to nature. By using materials like living grasses and blossoms placed in indoor settings, ikebana aims to link the indoors to the outdoors.

Sakai has incorporated dead and dried flower components into her creations. Her display at the Chrysanthemum Show is titled “Ikebana: The Life in Death.”

Sakai grew up in a mix of cultures, spending her childhood in the United States, Thailand and Japan. She began learning ikebana three years ago while living in Japan, as a way to connect to Japanese culture.

“I was debating between learning tea ceremony and ikebana,” Sakai says. She decided to study Sogetsu-style ikebana because it was being taught in a location near her home.

At Smith, the Botanic Garden was looking for a student who could help produce an ikebana display for this year’s Chrysanthemum Show. Knowing Sakai was connected to Japanese students on campus, Maki Hubbard, professor of East Asian languages and literatures, reached out to her about the show.

“As I asked around, I found I was the only one who had experience in ikebana,” Sakai says. The opportunity allowed Sakai, who is majoring in theatre design at Smith, to practice design and draw on her interest in showcasing Japanese culture.

Sakai says she looks forward to offering workshops for the Smith students who signed up for the sessions—her first time teaching since learning ikebana.

Sakai says that although it’s unlikely she will become a professional ikebana teacher, she considers the art form a unique way to celebrate her cultural heritage.

To those interested in finding out more about ikebana, Sakai has this recommendation: “Come see it!” at the Chrysanthemum Show.