On My Watch: Celebrating Flower Power and Painter of Place
By Anne W. Semmes
Imagine spending 50 years or more being “totally fulfilled” in your profession of “playing with flowers.” Meet Miriam Landsman of Greenwich, today being celebrated for her 50 years of flower power and support of the former Greenwich Garden Center, the now Greenwich Botanical Center (GBC).
Imagine having two galleries filled with your paintings, then adding a third in an historic boatyard that you fill with over 40 of your paintings, many of them celebrating the seascapes and landscapes of our town. The artist is our own Peter Arguimbau, who welcomed us last Friday to his new work in his second Arguimbau Art showing in The Boatyard in Riverside.
But Miriam takes the lead on this her celebratory day. There’s many a Greenwich house where Miriam has left her green imprint, with heralded Christmas decorations, and weddings where her bride’s bouquet is legendary. Former First Selectman Rebecca Breed enlisted Miriam’s expertise for her daughter Becky’s wedding, then asked for replication for her daughter’s anniversary.
The Greenwich Garden Center was Miriam’s flower arranging launching pad. “That’s where it all began,” she says. “I found my happy place. I just loved to create. I really loved that they let you make stuff to sell through the Center. We made mostly holiday decorations. The shop was downstairs and had mostly crafts for sale.”
Miriam’s passion was for cut flowers. “I love all flowers,” she says, especially roses. “They’re showy, with tremendous varieties, sizes and shapes.” She earned her certificate in garden design from the New York Botanic Garden, then founded her flower arranging business in her backcountry basement, “Miriam Landsman – Beautiful Flowers” in the 1990’s. With two or three employees, advertising by word of mouth, Miriam was soon on call for big events, with customers whose houses would be featured in the Garden Center Garden Tour or the Greenwich Historical Society’s Christmas House Tour.
In those busy 20-plus years there was lots of Christmas decorating, with Miriam weaving her green magic over tables, mantels, and up the stair rails. Roping that greenery along the stair rails she found “most physically difficult.” She still bemoans having had to redecorate for Christmas the corner façade of Susie Hilfiger’s former clothing store on Greenwich Avenue, when an “unusually hot December” killed off all the greenery.
Never a Garden Club member, she nonetheless has spoken at many of them across Connecticut and New York, and saw how flower arranging changed from a tight Garden Club structure to “very unstructured flower arrangements.” She’s definitely not “a competitive person,” she says and doesn’t like teaching flower arranging, because, in her honest humor, “ I don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
She rejoices over the accessibility of cut flowers today. “Now, you get peonies at Christmastime! There’s such variety and they come from all over the world.” Go find them she says “in our town florists and in Whole Foods.”
For those wishing to celebrate Miriam tonight at the GBC, from 6 to 8, with “Cocktails and Canapés,” click onto https://greenwichbotanicalcenter.org/product/harvest-cocktail-party-celebrate-miriam-landsman/ For those wanting to take home a bit of Miriam’s magic hurry to the tag sale of items from “Miriam’s Cupboard” located in the GBC greenhouse.
Where Peter Arguimbau welcomed me last Friday past sundown in Riverside is no ordinary boatyard, though it’s situated along Long Meadow Creek where kayaks come and go. “The Boatyard” building has earned its name, certainly from the 1930’s when Ole Amundsen made it into Riverside’s local boatyard. But the building goes back to the 1850’s, though when you step inside it feels brand new with its pristine white walls restoration, aglow with Arguimbau’s luminous oils.
Enjoying one of those luminous landscapes was Chris and Rachel Franco who share the first floor space of the Boatyard they restored and own. Their offices face the Creek and Peter’s Arguimbau Art gallery faces Riverside Avenue. And the painting they’re taking in with its heron and meadow, and sailboat and sea is entitled, “Sunrise off Elias Point, Riverside, 26 x 46, said to be located further out the Riverside coastline.
“Rachel and I love having Peter and [wife] Kim sharing our Boatyard and Peter’s fabulous art gracing the walls of the gallery space,” shared Chris. “We have long admired Peter’s paintings – we have two in our home – but it wasn’t until Peter started showing his art at the Boatyard that we really got to know them. We consider Peter and Kim to be great friends, and hope everyone will come to the Boatyard to see Peter’s fabulous work.”
As Peter walked me by his landscapes, marines, seascapes with sunsets, animal paintings and portraits – as Kim teased with delectable vittles – I paused by small paintings of “Ole’s Creek” (Long Meadow Creek), “Greenwich Point” and “Tod’s Point.” It’s Tod’s Point that Peter and Chris use for Greenwich Point (as in the Greenwich Point Conservancy Chris founded). “The old townies called it Tod’s Point,” noted a relatively young Chris, with a smile.
A painting of “Scott’s Cove” stops me. Isn’t that where Anne Morrow Lindbergh lived and wrote, I ask. “That’s where I grew up, told Peter, “It’s in Darien. You see that island, that’s Contentment Island, where John Frederick Kensett, master painter of the Hudson River School lived and died.” And then his tale was told of the unfortunate rescue bringing Kensett’s death.
Reaching the rear of the gallery, with Peter off welcoming his guests, I spied local artist Frank Smurlo, Jr. eyeing the “Statue of Liberty” painting with its amazing sailboat and American flag sail. And then, there was Bill Baker gazing about. The former chief of New York’s Channel 13, who lives nearby, was astonishing with what he’s up to in his “retirement.”
Heading for the door, I discovered the angel painting in the portrait area. “It’s called “Acceptance,” said Peter joining me. And yes, he still has those religious paintings in his backcountry Red Barn studio and gallery. (His other Mariner Gallery is in Newport, RI)
Stepping outside Peter speaks of his and Kim’s appreciation of the Franco’s “having created this masterful renovation of a Riverside icon,” of their being able “to exhibit local Riverside scenes” among Peter’s other works in The Boatyard. “It is an honor,” he said, “to be in the heart of this very special community.”
For more information on Arguimbau Art email Kim@ArguimbauArt.com.