Revisiting Lilies for Oscar Wilde

Have you seen Oh Beautiful World, our 2020 tribute to Oscar Wilde by artist Eleanor Lakelin?

In this blog by Elaine Blake, Art Curator at Reading Museum, you can learn about how we celebrated Wilde's legacy with artists and makers from across our town in an earlier project back in 2018.

In 2017, Reading celebrated Oscar Wilde and his writings about art with international tributes in The Critic as Artist exhibition at Reading Museum. At the same time, a group of Reading creatives gathered to encourage and organise our town's amazing artistic talent for the creation of a different kind of tribute to the great man.

This was not a grant-aided project and everyone involved did so purely for the love of creating art and celebrating Wilde's legacy. It grew beyond anything we imagined at the outset.

Rosie Jacobs with her lilies

What would you give a genius like Wilde?

We decided that the tribute we created must be a bouquet made up of extraordinary flowers, each an individual work of art. We would harmonise the bouquet by asking people to make lilies (lilies were one of Wilde’s favourite flowers and have a simple shape). We would limit the colour palette and the maximum size, but beyond that people could do what they fancied. And being artists, that's exactly what they did!

Ahmad Alazami with his lily

Where would we get the flowers?

We only had to invite a few of Reading’s many artists and makers for the word to spread and a flood of unique artworks to arrive.

Everyone took the idea of a lily for Oscar Wilde and interpreted it in their own way. The results ranged from responses to specific stories or plays by Wilde, to abstract notions of imprisonment, outsider status, or personal messages. Some people simply enjoyed the challenge of making something that resembled a lily! People used all sorts of materials from beautiful textiles to origami, 3D print to even old plastic bottles. Ingeniously, most people used what they came across or what they were used to working with. The lilies were wonderfully inventive.

How would we present the lilies?

We had tens of lilies, so it seemed obvious that we should ask a leading Reading florist to bring the ‘flowers’ together into a grand floral display. I think it is fair to say that Jamie, Mark, and the team at Cherubs went wild for Wilde!

The lilies on show in Haslams, Reading

Where would we show the installation?

The installation started with a hoorah in Haslams Estate Agents, Friar Street, who hosted a very merry opening night on the date of Oscar Wilde’s birthday. We wanted people going about their business in Reading to be surprised and intrigued by what they saw through the window. And they certainly were. The Lilies went on to a more traditional gallery setting at Reading Museum for several months.

The lilies arriving at Reading Museum. It's rare for packages to be as lovely as these!

The Lilies artists kept in touch via Facebook, sharing ideas and successes, and all contributed statements and images to an online catalogue of their artworks. See all the artists who took part with their lilies and the ideas behind them.

How did we end it?

In the spirit of the project the artists wanted to end the project with another hoorah and chose to auction their lilies to raise money for local homeless charity Launchpad. The Friends of Reading Museum stepped up and ran an exciting auction. As a result, many local people took home lilies and with them a little bit of the love that went into their making, as our tribute to Oscar Wilde bloomed across town.

As a postscript, the people of Reading recognised everyone who gave so much time and enthusiasm to the project by nominating Lilies for Oscar Wilde for a Reading Cultural Award in 2018. We enjoyed another very merry evening at the presentation.

Interested in learning more about Oscar Wilde and his legacy in Reading? View Oh Beautiful World in our galleries until the 11th June 2022, or join us on the 21st May 2022 for a Wilde-themed walking tour!