Heeding the Call to Create
Art and creating art have been integral parts of Ann Howell Armstrong’s life for as long as she can remember. Recognizing her passion and talent, Ann’s art teacher, Hamish MacEwan at St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains, now The White Mountain School, encouraged her to pursue art in college and beyond. He pointed her toward RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), a direction for which Ann remains grateful.
Following college, she began by renting a small storefront for studio space in Cambridge, MA. There she focused on sculpture and drawing, selling pieces as she was able. Ann also enrolled in the teacher training program for art teaching at Shady Hill School, ultimately teaching art at Milton Academy’s Lower School and Shady Hill School. While in Cambridge, Ann dated Joe Armstrong, marrying in 1964. A few years later, with their young family, they moved overseas to Holland where Ann continued to draw and paint watercolors. Eventually Ann and her family moved back to the U.S. settling in the Philadelphia area. Ann’s involvement in the art world continued as she pursued additional coursework and began to explore more deeply the world of marble sculpture and bronze. She and her family restored an old, Quaker farmhouse and converted part of the barn into a studio for her sculpting. Much of Ann’s work reflected her deep connection with and respect for the natural world. Some of her sculptures were shown at juried shows including at the Allentown Museum of Art.
In the 1980’s Ann worked at the Laran Bronze Foundry which was started by a Philadelphia area family. Ann’s bronze sculpture of a fox was cast there and was exhibited by a landscape designer at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Reproductions were sold through the Garden Accent Store. Commissions for portraits, particularly of children, came through in the early years. Ann’s work as an artist has always played a significant role in her life. “I can’t imagine being without a studio space of my own. I can’t imagine not working with my hands and my mind in a creative way. I see and feel a never ceasing need for artistic expression in my life,” remarks Ann.
Where is Ann’s art currently taking her? She still draws and takes Ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arrangement) classes regularly. In the last decade Ann has become heavily involved with the renown Philadelphia Flower Show, given by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society (PHS). PHS offers exhibit competitions in numerous areas, with Ann’s favorite class being 3-D interpretive floral design. Many artists from all over enter their work. Each year, PHS presents themes for the 3-D competitive class and then the artist selects plant material to build a floral sculpture interpretation of the theme. Recent themes have included Hawaii with a sub-theme of Lava Flow and England with a sub-theme of Kew. In 2014, the theme involved a cross-medium challenge; each floral designer was assigned to a different student sculptor and challenged to interpret one of their works. Ann’s art student had meticulously welded an angry bear in red metal wire. Her floral interpretation utilized a metal armature and featured red twig dogwood, Poncirus (Hearty Orange) and Lobster Claw Heliconia. At the 2014 Philadelphia Flower Show, the art students’ sculptures were displayed alongside the floral artists’ interpretations. Ann’s interpretation of the angry bear in red sculpture took blue and gold ribbons.
When asked what she most enjoys about her latest artform, floral design, Ann replied that in addition to working with plant material, she is excited by the problem solving aspects of the medium. Each themed competition at PHS presents her with intellectual, emotional and material challenges or problems to solve. Ann is currently preparing for the 2015 Philadelphia Flower Show. This year’s theme? Hollywood, with a subtheme of Doubletake: Heroes vs. Villains. We can’t wait to see what Ann’s botanical representation of this will be!