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Church, Hall Or Reception Room Decorations

( Originally Published 1923 )

The purpose of all ornamentation is to add interest. A church, hall or reception room decoration is to relieve the bareness of the interior and add a spirit of cheerfulness to the occasion. Flowering and foliage plants furnish an attractive setting to public functions which can be obtained in no other way.

One of the first considerations in any decorative work is the comfort and pleasure of the principals of the occasion. Interest will not be added if the entertainers or the audience are rendered uncomfortable in any way. The plants should be arranged so as not to interfere with the freedom of movement or the stage presence of the artists. The choice of flowering material should be considered with great care. Some vocal soloists believe that the quality of tone is affected by flowering plants of strong perfume, especially Easter Lilies. One noted pianist refused to make his appearance on the stage until all the ferns banked near the piano had been removed. Tones radiate from all parts of the piano, even from beneath, and anything which would interfere with the purity of tone would, of course, be objectionable. An orchestra dislikes to be crowded behind a screen of palms or other plants where foliage interferes with the freedom of movement.

It is equally important that nothing interfere with the pleasure of the audience. When one has paid a good price for a seat, he does not like to have his view of the performer shut off by plant material. For this reason it is necessary to consider the effect of the decoration from all points of the hall. Ferns, no matter how low, should not be arranged at the front of the stage if they will in any way interfere with the view of those in the front seats. Groupings of plants and flowers at the side of the stage should be placed back far enough so as not to screen the artists from the audience at the extreme right or left of the hall. If the decoration be in a church, or for a lecture platform, the speaker dislikes to have any plant material on the desk to interfere with his freedom of movement.

A second principle to be considered is that of appropriateness. There are times when the occasion demands but little in the way of plant material. When the permanent interior decorations are rich and elaborate, additional decorative effects with plant material seem to detract rather than add to the interest. I have in mind a chapel with rich, stained glass windows, wall decorations of inlaid mosaic and ceiling with elaborate frescoing. Additional decorations have to be selected most carefully, both as to amount and color. A few large, finely shaped palms add dignity to the interior and small groups of Easter Lilies give a richness to the setting. Large masses of palms, or the use of many species of flowers, cheapens the effect.

On the other hand, a bare interior with no wall decorations, may be transformed into a bower of beauty by the use of carefully selected material. If evergreen trees are abundant, one or two large Cedars, a few Hemlocks, Pines or Spruces give an appropriate setting which cannot be excelled by tropical foliage from the greenhouses. Personally I care little for heavy festoons of Laurel or Ground Pine. Large branches of evergreens, or even branches freshly gathered from deciduous trees, especially those with the Fall coloring, give more natural effects. There are, however, occasions when the festooning is very effective. Recently in a church decoration for Christmas, heavy festoons of Hemlock were draped gracefully over the front of the organ and the choir rail. A large star of Hemlock and tinsel furnished the "point of emphasis." Where the festooning was fastened to projecting corners and in the open doorways balls of Hemlock were suspended and over the doors were Hem-lock wreaths. A few artificial Poinsettias, placed where the festooning was caught, gave a touch of color in keeping with the Christmas season. Natural Poinsettias were banked in front of the pulpit. Dwarf Cedar trees on either side gave the finishing touches to a natural decoration, symbolic of the rustic setting of the birth of the Christ child.

Palms or tropical ferns have much decorative value in large halls and in churches where the permanent deco-rations are rich and costly. Also, for such decorations, large sprays of the so-called Southern Smilax are most effective. The Smilax comes from various sections of the Southern States and can be purchased from any local florist, provided the order is placed early enough so the material can be shipped while fresh.

Another principle to be studied carefully is that of proportion, first between the size of the room and of the decoration, and then of the size of the individual flowers used. Large churches and halls demand that the whole decorative scheme be on an elaborate scale. On the other hand, a small hall is frequently over-decorated. If the room be a large one, a cheap effect is produced if too little decorative material is used; in such an instance it is better to attempt no decorative work than to have it appear unfinished. A picture is to be produced and the effect is not pleasing if there is not sufficient plant growth to furnish pleasing proportions.

The size of the material used is also important. For a large hall tall palms and flowers of large size are absolutely necessary. If tropical foliage is not used, the native material should be of large size. An auditorium that will seat two thousand people demands that the largest flowers obtainable be used. Large flowered Chrysanthemums Lilies, Peonies, Poinsettias or showy potted plants like Genistas, Cinerarias or pans of Tulips, Narcissi or Hyacinths make the best effect. Even with the use of these large flowering plants, one is surprised at their minute appearance from the rear of the room. Often it is necessary to mass a number of individual flowers that the desired effect may be obtained. Baskets of flowering plants may be made up which give larger effects and bring the whole decoration into proportion with the size of the room.

If the decoration is for an evening event, the size of the material is apparently diminished under artificial light and especially so with certain colors.

Amateurs are quite likely to err in the selection of material for use in a large room. Small flowered or fruited material which is particularly attractive in small living rooms usually is not suited for a church. Also it takes a long time to arrange small material, and when a large decoration is being set up, speed is an important factor. For a spacious hall, large sprays of climbing or pillar Roses; Queen Anne's Lace, Daucus Carota; Golden Rod, Solidago, various species; Fall Asters, Aster, various species; large branches of Spirĉa Vanhouttei, Golden Bell, Forsythia viridissima, or Clematis, Clematis virginiana, are most attractive.

For the best decorative results, the designer should make first a mental picture of the desired effect. All the factors which contribute to the making of a successful portrait or painting should be considered. The arrangement of the material for what the landscape artist would call the "sky line," is particularly important. As a rule, a gradation of outline in the arrangement of palms or other foliage material is the most pleasing. This line of gradation may be in two directions; that is, from the highest point of the decoration to the right or left, or it may be to the front. Abrupt indentations or too broken a "sky line" are seldom pleasing in indoor groups of ornamental plants. If the decoration be for a concert where one or two artists are to appear, the plant material should be grouped so there will be the proper degree of balance. This does not mean that the group of plants on one side of the stage must be of exactly the same size as the group on the other side. Often monotony is avoided if they vary. A piano or other article of furniture may be a factor to be considered in the apparent size of the group. It re-quires careful judgment and an artist's touch to properly adjust the plants in a well balanced arrangement.

The spacing of material is very important in a decoration. The plants should not be spaced so far apart that there will be an appearance of too little material used, neither should they be too crowded. One designer will get a very pleasing effect with comparatively little material while another will use nearly twice the amount with no better results. When professional decorators are renting palms and ferns at dozen rates, they naturally do not limit the number.

In every decoration there should be at least one particular point of emphasis. As a rule, the designer likes to have this so placed that it will attract the attention as soon as a person enters the room. First impressions usually are lasting. This point of emphasis may be a foliage plant of striking outline or foliage characters; it may be a group of one particular species of flowers, or an attractive plant basket. If the decoration be a large one, and especially if there are several entrances to the auditorium, there may be several points of emphasis, but all should be so placed that there will be a hamronious grouping in the whole decoration.

When using flowering material among foliage, it is well to arrange first all the foliage so the general plan of the decoration is apparent. As a rule, it is preferable to bring the flowering material into quite well defined groups rather than to scatter it promiscuously among the foliage plants. Care should be taken to avoid a dotted appearance and to prevent monotony the groups should be somewhat irregularly spaced. The groups however, should not be too compact. For example, several clusters of Peonies of varying sizes are much more effective than is one large cluster. I would suggest that the receptacles first be placed where desired among the foliage plants, then the flowers arranged one by one in them. This makes possible a more natural appearance.

It is always well to have a color scheme in every decoration. Too much variation in color cheapens the effect and detracts from the interest. The effect is most pleasing when one, or at most two, colors predominate in a decoration. In selecting a color scheme several factors should be considered. The quality of the color is very important. Decorations are placed usually in the day-time and if they are to be viewed in the evening under artificial light, the effect may be very different. For example, yellow loses in its intensity under artificial light and becomes almost white, while blues and lavenders are hardly noticeable. Cinerarias, beautiful for an afternoon decoration, are valueless in the evening.

Another factor to be studied in the selection of a color scheme is that it should harmonize with the permanent, interior decorations, such as the color of the woodwork, the wall tints or any curtains or draperies. For example, if the decorations are to be placed against red draperies, the colors should be such as will not clash in the color combinations. If pink Begonias are used they should be placed so as not to come directly against the red draperies. A bank of green palms or ferns may form a screen between the Begonias and the curtains and the effect be less jarring.

The Japanese are very particular that all plant material used in their flower arrangements be in accord with the season of the year. This is quite possible in America and very appropriate decorations result. In the early Fall there is an abundance of showy wild flowers and Autumn foliage colorings; later Chrysanthemums pre-dominate. For Christmas, Cedar trees, Hemlock balls and wreaths with Poinsettias give character to a decoration. At Easter Lilies typify the resurrection, and later Spring flowering bulbs in varied colors lend a brightness to a decoration that coincides with the Springtime spirit.

In decorating a reception room where many guests are to be received standing, the decorations should be placed high or their effect will be lost when the guests have assembled. Few, if any, decorations should be placed on the floor, but mantels may be banked and vases of cut flowers placed on articles of furniture with excellent effects.

Every decoration should be executed carefully and finished thoroughly. Nothing detracts more from the beauty and interest than careless arrangement and unsightly receptacles or containers. Palms must of necessity be in earthen pots or wooden tubs which are nor ornamental, but a careful designer will conceal them in some way. Some use waterproof crêpe paper, but this gives an artificial character to the decoration, and a covering of some native green foliage is much to be preferred. If Hemlock boughs are placed so that not only the pots are covered but the floor areas between the pots, as well, a natural effect is obtained which makes the decoration quite like a garden. Field Asparagus makes an excellent covering for the pots, as do also sterile fronds of coarse Ferns, as the Interrupted Fern, Osmunda Claytoniana, the Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamomea and the Ostrich Fern, Onoclea Struthiopteris.

When a decoration is completed it should bring to the designer such a sense of satisfaction that he will not desire to change a line, move a palm or a group of flowers. There should be no discordant note in the harmony of the entire arrangement. Of course, individual tastes differ and what pleases one person may not please another. Consequently, it is often helpful if two or three persons can work in unison in setting up a decoration. When finished the decorated areas should be viewed from different angles to make sure that all is complete in every detail.

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