It was a paper intended for wrapping flower bouquets, etched with the words “Say it with flowers,” and it piqued Linda Stillman’s interest for years.
Stillman — an artist who primarily works with paintings and collages — decided to start taking pictures of people with the wrapping paper and bouquets whenever she came across them in New York. Once she took around 10 pictures of people with individualized stories about why they bought the flowers, Stillman realized her interest had grown into something more.
“I didn’t really think it would be an art project,” Stillman said. “I just wanted to document them.”
A year ago, Stillman’s budding project caught the attention of Jodi Moise, curator of the Montefiore Fine Art Program and Collection at the Montefiore Medical Center. Moise encouraged Stillman to expand her work to focus on some people in the Bronx.
“Everybody loves flowers,” Moise said. “It’s a universal concept and it’s just easy to understand. And who doesn’t like to receive flowers?”
So Stillman did just that. She visited places like the Grand Concourse on Valentine’s Day and even sat through Lehman College’s graduation in May to capture the happy degree recipients with bouquets they received from loved ones.
“The expression ‘say it with flowers’ was very clever,” she said. “Sometimes people aren’t very good at expressing their emotions, and flowers allow them to say things that might be hard for them to say.”
But one of Stillman’s most memorable moments from exploring the Bronx was actually the first picture she took in the borough last December.
She recalls being near a deli at Jerome Avenue and Mosholu Parkway when she noticed a woman carrying flowers with that familiar phrase on the paper. The woman was buying flowers after her son was not well, but when Stillman asked her who the flowers were for, they weren’t for him.
“She said, ‘They’re for God,’” Stillman recalled. “I just was blown away by this amazing woman and her gratitude for the things she felt she got from God and how her son was doing so well. She was buying flowers to put on her altar at home to thank God for all the good things that have happened to her and her son. That was really chilling.”
Almost a year later, Stillman’s exhibition, “Say it With Flowers,” is now on display at the Montefiore Medical Centers’ ArtViews Gallery, 110 E. 210th St., through Jan. 26.
The gallery — housed between a long corridor where the hospital’s radiology and radiation oncology departments are located — launched in September 2015 and displays work with some sort of relation to the Bronx. The artwork rotates between Montefiore’s other campuses in Wakefield and Eastchester as well.
Moise sees “Say it With Flowers” as an opportunity to bring an uplifting exhibition to visitors who need it for a variety of reasons.
“Everything is at a height that whether you’re young, old, you’re being directed through (the hallway so) you have an opportunity to see them,” she said. “And it enhances the space and just transports you somewhere else for that moment. (It) gives you a moment to pause. It makes you think about something else, hopefully other than why you’re here” at the hospital.
Stillman shares a similar response from a patient and visitor’s perspective.
“When you’re in a traumatic situation, to look at art is a really good way of getting out of your pain,” Stillman said. “Just from my experience, if I’m in a waiting room and they have beautiful artwork around, I feel like I’m valued as a patient.”
The reception to “Say it With Flowers” continues to be positive, according to Moise. She recalls seeing a few people take selfies with the pictures and visitors who have pointed out that the work features a relative or a location they’re familiar with.
Moise even noted that Montefiore employees are drawn to the exhibits the fine arts program provides every three to four months.
“I feel that there’s a level of personal investment in the exhibitions because they want to see what the next artist is going to share with them,” Moise said.
But most of all, Moise and her program’s mission is dedicated to bringing positive art to a place where it’s sometimes needed the most — a hospital.
“People walk through and they smile,” Moise said. “And you want people to smile in a hospital.”