Meet the Artists Behind Our Plant Craft
If you have ever visited our shops, you know how wild we are about plant craft. Kokedama string gardens hang suspended from the ceiling, greeting our customers as they walk in. Stately staghorn mounts beckon from up high. Peering through gleaming terrarium glass reveals a lush miniature oasis of green. Cork-mounted plants send vines cascading from the walls. For over a decade, Pistils’ owner Mégan Twilegar has been finding many creative ways to use plants. Starting with terrariums, Pistils slowly branched out and developed a line of living works of art including cork mounts, kokedama, staghorn mounts, desert oasis, and more.
Here at Pistils, we love our Plant Craft for the aesthetic pleasure of the works of art, but also because the pieces often strike up curiosity and conversation in even the most seasoned plant owners. Often, customers stare in awe as they puzzle over a form of plant craft that they’ve never encountered before. As a retail staff member in our shops, some of the most memorable conversations we have had start when customers begin to say “I’ve never seen anything like that before! What is it?!”
Behind each cork mount, kokedama, or terrarium, there’s a story. All of the plant craft in our shops is lovingly and patiently handcrafted in-house by our Plant Craft staff of two: Claire (she/her) and Bee (she/they). Each week, upwards of 150 pieces of living art travel from their capable hands to our retail shops in Portland, OR, and ship nationwide to adorn homes all over with unique greenery.
The practice of stewarding our Plant Crafts is rooted in a reverence for plants and the many beautiful forms that they take. To care for a piece is to take part in a tiny ecosystem and is a chance to get a new perspective on familiar plants.
This week, I sat down to speak with Claire and Bee to gain some insight into their craft and the magic that they work behind the scenes.
Interview With the Artists
What drew you to Plant Craft?
Claire: I have been an artist all of my life, and I also hold a B.S. in Botany from Humboldt State University in Northern California. Creating living art allows me to meld those two major areas of my life—art and science—in a really fun and engaging way.
Bee: Like Claire, I have a background in both art and science, but I think what really drew me to living art here at Pistils is working with my hands. For me, terrarium building and kokedama creation is all a form of meditation and a way to escape into my own little world for a while.
Pistils promotes that “plants have the power to inspire, connect, and transform – they’re our reason for being, and a gift to be shared.” How do you see the creation of Plant Craft fulfilling this ideal?
Claire: Personally, plants have always been a major inspiration. Not only are they beautiful beings, they are also so resilient and creative. Making beautiful pieces of art that people can not only enjoy visually in their homes, but that also require care and tending feels very special. The ritual of slowing down and tending to plants is a welcome balm in our busy, chaotic lives. I know it is for me! People often purchase living art pieces to mark important life changes and events, for themselves and others as a gift, which brings an even greater connection to it.
Bee: Our mission statement here at Pistils resonates true especially in our living art, because it pushes us to expand our understanding of what a potted plant can be in our homes and hopefully question the connection we have to the living creatures we use in our craft. I love when customers ask us about our kokedama and cork mounted pieces because it starts a conversation about mindfulness and natural habits of these amazing plants and what they are capable of. My hope is that these plants are seen with more admiration and respect through the process of this crafting.
How do you express yourself artistically outside of creating Plant Craft?
Claire: I am primarily a painter, though I also work in a variety of media. I write poetry, make jewelry, and also do commission work for friends and family.
Bee: I express myself artistically just by living. I am of the opinion that you don’t actually have to create anything to be an artist. You just have to challenge the way you see the world and what that means to you. I might write a poem or create a private joke or just make myself laugh. I love reading and engaging my friends with creative ways of thinking. If you know me, I probably have annoyed you with bizarre questions about the world.
How has your creative expression been shaped by this job?
Claire: Working full time on Plant Craft production has really opened up my own personal art practice in unexpected ways. Showing up to a creative practice everyday has created an internal discipline that serves me well in my own practice. So much of creative work is just sitting down and showing up. It helps to eliminate anxiety about “feeling inspired” or “in the mood.” The only way to figure out how to complete a project really is just to sit down and work through it!
Bee: I would say my creative expression has been challenged in new ways through this aspect of my job. I have experience with ceramics, drawing, painting, photography, etc. But nothing related to crafting with live plants. I think what has shaped me is realizing that all creative expression is easily translatable. The same concepts of movement, color, and texture I am familiar with have become second nature to me and it brings me joy to be able to use those skills in something like putting a terrarium together for a customer.
What is it like working at the Pistils warehouse?
Claire: It’s really a fun working environment. We have a very fun and lively group of folks who work in our warehouse, including our shipping and plant care team. I really enjoy being able to work independently on my own projects, but also have great people around.
Bee: The Pistils Warehouse has such a special place in my heart. Not only is the space beautiful, big, warm, and full of plants. It is also filled with the best people. I have never worked somewhere so inclusive and lovely. The people that work for Pistils make it what it is, which is a home.
How has your relationship to plants changed as you’ve worked on the Plant Craft team?
Claire: When I was completing my botany coursework, the emphasis was almost exclusively on wild species of plants. There were no courses on horticulture. So to spend everyday working intimately with plants has been a real gift, and has added a whole new dimension to my relationship with them. Plants are an ordinary and everyday part of my life, as opposed to something I have to seek out on a long hike in the woods (which is also wonderful!)
Bee: My story is pretty similar to Claire’s where my relationship with plants actually started off in the field conducting research. Which is a pretty stark difference to making kokedama out of tropical houseplants. It’s changed my relationship with people more than with plants I think. It has made me realize how important it is to us to connect with the natural world and how it seems strange we have taken this path to get back something that has been missing from our everyday lives.
What are your biggest challenges with Plant Craft production? What is most rewarding?
Claire: Like many other businesses, we’ve definitely had issues with supply chain disruptions. I’ve definitely spent a lot more time than I would like on the phone with FEDEX this past year. We are also a tiny team—it’s just the two of us! So we are always doing our best to keep up with the (very welcome) demand for our products. Making beautiful pieces takes time, so I am always trying to optimize production, while also keeping the quality of our pieces high.
Bee: The biggest challenge with living art is time. With a two person team and an increase in demand online and in stores it can become overwhelming quickly. But in a way that feels good because it is validation that what we are doing is being noticed and going home with someone who will care for the plants we have crafted. I love seeing photos of living art in people’s homes because I was part of the team that made that for someone, and brought them joy in their space. It’s a rewarding feeling to be a part of that connection to space and the natural world.
Do you have a favorite type of living art to build? (Terrariums, aeriums, cork mounts, kokedama, staghorn mounts, etc.?)
Claire: From day one I’ve been absolutely obsessed with making perfectly rounded kokedamas. It takes a lot of time and skill to get the shape just right, but when I finish a beautiful kokedama, it’s deeply satisfying.
Bee: I love the large statement cork mounts! Something that will be a showstopper in the shops and not get lost in the chaos. A large piece of cork wood with the perfect shape and a big lush plant carefully mounted onto it. I could make those all day.
And the obvious question…what is your current favorite plant? Tell us about it!
Claire: Always such a hard question! I’m obsessed with jungle cacti. I love Rhipsalis—they can get so long and wonky, and there are so many fun species. They’re such a charismatic plant, and I can’t get enough of them.
Bee: I don’t know if I have a favorite plant, but I do have a soft spot for anything with a unique adaptation like carnivorous plants, Lithops ‘living stones,’ or moosehorn ferns. I just love it when plants blur the boundaries of our understanding. Like a plant eating an animal or mimicking a stone. The natural world is so wonderfully queer.
Plants have the power to inspire, connect, and transform – they’re our reason for being, and a gift to be shared. We revel in the creativity that Plant Craft can spark in us when we’re faced with the challenge of relating to plants in a new way, and we aspire to pass this feeling on to our fellow plant lovers! Whether your house is full of living art, you’re dabbling in plant craft, or you’re simply curious to see what creative new forms plants can take, we hope that our Plant Craft pieces can be a source of inspiration. Want to learn how to make your own plant creations? Come and craft along with us in our upcoming Virtual Workshops or purchase one of our Plant Craft Kits!
By Amalia Ackerman