It’s no secret that the Adirondack Mountains have stood as an inspiration and dwelling place for artists. Walking into local galleries you might find magnificent paintings and photographs of mountain landscapes or sculptures inspired by the area's wildlife. But one artist, who calls the Whiteface Region home, turns to the local flora to create whimsical, fairytale-like characters.
Allison Haas, Wilmington resident and artist behind Wildy Pressed, gathers and grows botanicals from her 9 acre property and presses them before arranging them into works of art. When asked how she got started, Ali replied, “I am one of those people, I can be walking and spot a four leaf clover. This has been happening since I was a child.”
While Ali has only been running Wildly Pressed for a few years, her love for foraging and creating started at a young age. “I remember as a child my mother really nurtured a love of gardening and walking in the woods. When violets bloomed in May we would pick them, press them, put sugar on them and eat them. It was all very magical.”
When Ali moved to her current residence she began to explore and get to know the land. With so many wildflowers and ferns, Ali began to collect samples of the foliage, press them, and start to arrange them in patterns, exploring new ways to create. During winter months, Ali gets flowers from Little Farmhouse Flowers, a florist in Jay, NY to keep her creating. It’s also important to note Ali always forages sustainably and never pulls anything from the root.
In the beginning, Ali would press her flowers in textbooks and between contact papers. Now she has 5 large flower presses that allow her to pour her energy into Wildy Pressed. When not foraging and turning flowers into fairytale-like scenes, Ali is the Director of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum in Lake Placid. Her day to day includes everything from artifact acquisition, curating exhibits, interpretive writing, as well as the less exciting work of grant writing and bookkeeping.
One may look at Ali’s art and wonder where she gets the ideas for her characters, such as her recent design of a fish, wearing heels, sweeping, with a ball and chain. Ali said she gets a lot of her inspiration from children’s books and stories and tries to portray them in new ways. Like Willy Wonka in the picture above, Ali explained how she loves to take strong characters and recreate them. Some of her inspiration, like the sweeping fish, is the result of Transmundane Tuesdays, a monthly prompt of three words put together by illustrator, Carson Ellis. Work from artists who participate in Transmundane Tuesdays, such as Ali can be found online under the #transmundanetuesdays tag. “That was helpful during Covid," said Ali, after talking about the monthly prompts, adding, “It’s interesting to see how others interpret things and it helps connect you to other illustrators around the world.”
Ali also pulls inspiration from everyday things. “I really like the idea of reusing items. If you can keep making things continue and live it extends their circle of joy. I’m always drinking tea. Rather than throwing it away or putting it in the compost pile, to create something out of that tea bag, extends its life."
When it comes to favorite flowers and foliage, Ali is mostly looking for a wide variety of colors and textures. She talked about how ranunculus and tulips work great for fish and added ferns, Queen Anne's lace, snapdragons and hairy vetch to her list of favorites. “Like a snowflake, no petal is the same,” said Ali.
When heading out Ali doesn’t always have a piece in mind but instead knows what species she prefers to work with. “I have come to understand what presses well and what doesn't. Some lose their color, some retain it. I am attracted to the different shapes that come to mind when foraging,” she explained.
After the collecting, the vines and petals will stay in the press for a minimum of 3 weeks. Once they are ready Ali’s museum background kicks in and she begins to organize by species and color. Then it’s time to come up with an idea and begin designing. Ali will begin to lay the petals down using tweezers and tiny scissors. This phase can last anywhere from 2-12 hours. If the design is complete, Ali will glue everything down with a paintbrush, otherwise she will take a photo of the progress and put everything away to be worked on at another time.
For the person who wants to try turning their own backward foliage into art, Ali suggests, “Start by purchasing a flower press. Forage sustainably and press those items, then get creative and start making flower mandalas, patterns, figures, scenes.”
Photos were provided by Alison Haas and used with permission.