All original images and flowers by Mary Kathryn Paynter
Today’s post is dedicated to two of the most influential cultural figures of the 20th century: Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. Together as lovers and partners, almost immediately after meeting until Stein’s death, they built a renowned circle of artists, writers, musicians and cultural émigrés that changed the world of art forever.
Stein met Toklas in Paris in 1907, the day Toklas arrived. Stein had moved there three years prior and was already running a salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus with her brother, Leo. Upon meeting Toklas, Stein wrote of her:
“She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair. She was dressed in a warm brown corduroy suit. She wore a large round coral brooch and when she talked, very little, or laughed, a good deal, I thought her voice came from this brooch. It was unlike anyone else’s voice — deep, full, velvety, like a great contralto’s, like two voices.”
Shortly after, they summered together in Italy, where they took the iconic photo below in the Piazza San Marco in Venice. They returned to Paris, and Toklas moved in with Stein in 1910.
Images above: Alice B. Toklas & Gertrude Stein in Piazza San Marco, Venice, circa 1908; Toklas & Stein in New York, 1945, photograph by Carl Van Vechten. All images via the Yale Beinecke Library, with generous permission by the estate of Gertrude Stein.
Toklas acted as Stein’s confidante, lover, cook, editor, critic and muse. Artists such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Dalí gathered at their home, and history was made within those walls. Stein’s writing attempted to explain what these artists were trying to do and gave a linear narrative to the birth of modernism and the avant-garde movement happening in Europe at the time. Her work remained relatively obscure until she published her memoirs in 1933 under the title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. This was as much an act of love and recognition as anything else, bringing Toklas into her rightful place in the spotlight alongside Stein.
After the jump, I’ll tell you more about this prolific couple and how I made the accompanying floral arrangement that exudes their passion and mystique. — Mary Kathryn
Images above: Toklas & Stein’s flat at 27 Rue de Fleurus, where they presided over one of the most influential and famous salons in Paris. Images via the Yale Beinecke Library, with generous permission by the estate of Gertrude Stein.
In 1916, Stein and Toklas acquired a Ford and decided to join the war effort in France. They volunteered and drove supplies to French hospitals, naming their Ford “Auntie” after Stein’s Aunt Pauline, who “always behaved admirably in emergencies and behaved fairly well most times if she was flattered.” Together they doted on their poodle, Basket, continuing to write and travel, always communicating by letters. In the 1980s, a locked cabinet was opened in the Beinecke Library at Yale University, revealing 300 love letters between Toklas and Stein, in which they call each other “Baby Precious” and “Mr. Cuddle-Wuddle.”
Stein died of stomach cancer in 1946, and Toklas was at her side for her last breath. Stein’s family completely cut Toklas out of the estate, and with no legal standing to the epic works of art that she and Stein had collected over the years, she was left in poverty. Toklas eventually wrote her memoir in 1963, What Is Remembered, which, somewhat poetically and romantically, ends abruptly with Stein’s death. Stein and Toklas both blazed trails in the literary world by writing openly about their lesbian identities and experiences, as well as their non-traditional lifestyle.
To honor the relationship between Toklas and Stein, I created an arrangement that is distinct, lush and refined. I wanted to make something that was feminine in a non-traditional way, with textures and colors that evoked a painterly style. Using amaranth, umbrella fern and coleus to build a base, I added astrantia, green ranuncula and parrot tulips to pay homage to Stein and Toklas’ non-traditional take on femininity. The bright colors and unusual shapes reflect the avant-garde works of art inspired by the salons the couple hosted, while the antique vase references the exquisite taste displayed in their Paris flat.