Constance Spry was such a rebel that she caused uproar at the Design Museum 44 years after her death and goaded Sir James Dyson’s resignation as chairman. An advocate of industrial design, his departure came as a reaction to an exhibition celebrating Constance’s work as an innovative florist and social reformer. She probably would have relished the controversy. From the very beginning of her life she pitted herself against rules, prejudice and “anything which sets unnecessary bounds to one’s imagination or limits one’s train of thought.”
Born in Derby in 1886, she moved to Ireland before settling in London as a single mother. She believed that everyone should be able to make their home beautiful, irrespective of income, and went on to inspire millions to decorate using flowers plucked from hedgerows, vegetable patches and areas of wasteland. She worked with teenage factory workers in Hackney, imbuing them with the notion that it was imagination, not money, that brought beauty to life.
She went on to create oral designs for the Royal Family, open her own shop in Mayfair and write best-selling books. Her work was always innovative and throughout her career she championed women’s rights to work.
Her personal life was also an example of her pioneering spirit. Leaving one husband in Ireland, she married again in London before going on to have a relationship with the painter Hannah Gluckstein. Constance’s work is said to have inspired a number of Hannah’s paintings. Both women de ed the conventional roles of what was expected of women at that time and did exactly what they wanted.
In her book, How to Do the Flowers, she concludes her introduction: “Some people may argue that to make a picture with anything so perishable as living flowers is disappointing because it is so soon gone, but the argument cuts both ways; your failures quickly fall into oblivion and your successes not only give in nite pleasure for the moment, but they remain a memory which long after the flowers are faded may ‘ ash upon that inward eye.’” For Constance, her attitude toward her work mirrored her attitude to life.
To see more of the Constance Spry tribute order your copy of issue #7 here.