A Conversation with Rinne Allen + Mandy O'Shea
Earlier this spring, we asked four of our favorite florists to create arrangements that captured the best of the season in their regions. One of those florists was Mandy O'Shea of Moonflower and 3 Porch Farm near Athens, GA, who asked friend and fellow Athenian Rinne Allen to photograph her design. Mandy and Rinne made a great team, providing us with the gorgeous photos of 3 Porch Farm seen above, so we asked them if they'd like to pair up again for a conversation. Read on for what they had to say about their work, their community, and what inspires them.
Mandy: We both worked for Rebecca Wood at R.Wood Studio years ago. What are some things you learned from your time there with Rebecca?
Rinne: I started working for Rebecca straight out of college, almost 20 (!) years ago. Rebecca was the first working artist I knew who had made a business around her art. This is more common today, but Rebecca really was a rarity then. Just coming out of art school, this made a huge impact on me. Rebecca was the first person I photographed for commercially. She let me 'practice' a lot with her dishes and I learned so much over the 15 or so years that I photographed the studio's work. She's still is one of my favorite collaborators.
Rebecca also taught me a lot about intuition; to this day, whenever I need to make a decision I hear her voice in my head telling me to trust my gut.
Rinne: Mandy, I'll start with the same question. What did you learn from your time there?
Mandy: Rebecca was a fantastic boss and is still a great friend. She employs so many talented artists and musicians, and has always allowed room for them to explore their art. Whether it was to go on tour with a band or in my case, farm, she has never tried to hold her employees back from their passions. Because she allows this time for personal exploration, her work crew ends up staying with the studio for years, happy and inspired. As we begin to hire at the farm and at Moonflower, I want to embrace that same attitude and allow folks to feel passionate about their lives, not just mine.
Having known Rebecca for many years now, I have come to admire her confidence and sense of self. She just goes for it! Not worrying what others will think, never concerned as to what's the latest trend. I am trying to embrace her attitude, let go of inhibitions, and create beauty. Beauty Everyday!
Mandy: Speaking of, you have been collaborating on multiple books lately, including Beauty Everyday and A New Turn in the South. What advice would you give to someone who wants to publish their art?
Rinne: I love books-- always have. Anyone who has been to my studio knows that I have piles of them everywhere. I look to them constantly for inspiration or ideas, or just for the experience of holding a book and turning the pages. So, the fact that I have been helping to make books over these last few years is really a dream come true. I love that I get to move between food books from larger publishers with my friend (and fellow Athenian) Hugh Acheson and self-published things like Beauty Everyday or the Colorset3 series that I do with my friend Susan Hable.
It's easier than ever these days to make a book and get it out in the world. I would tell someone who is interested in publishing to just do it, whether you do it yourself on a small scale, or go bigger and send ideas to a publisher. It may seem daunting, but you never know what can happen if you just try!
Rinne: Mandy, I remember you talking about wanting to be a farmer 10+ years ago, and now you're doing it! What first planted the seed of wanting to be a farmer for you?
Mandy: For most of my childhood and teen years, I was big into horses. The barn was my life. I loved everything about it, especially being outside in nature. As my interest in horses waned and the pressure of deciding on a career became pronounced, the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to continue to be outdoors as much as possible. After multiple undergrad major changes and a feeling of total confusion about my future, I was advised to go speak with the 'hippie' professor on campus. After one hour of talking with her, she totally got me! She signed me up for independent study courses like botanical studies at the local arboretum, botany, and greenhouse management. After a transformative semester, I transferred to UGA to study horticulture. As soon as classes started, I met one of the only other sustainably-minded folks in my department. She and her husband just so happened to own and operate an organic farm in Athens and needed some help. I instantly got a job with them and have been hooked ever since!
Rinne: What do you like most about living and farming in the South?
Mandy: I grew up on the river in coastal Georgia, just outside of Savannah, and didn't travel much until after college. Shortly after graduation, I moved to northern California for what was to be a four month farming internship. I ended up staying for 6 years. When my California husband and I started looking for farmland to call our own, Athens was the place that kept coming up in conversation. Having lived here already, I was a bit nervous about returning. Was I going backwards? I really never thought I would move back to Georgia. But boy, am I glad we did!
I'd always heard of Southern hospitality, but never understood the magnitude of it until returning from California. Within ten minutes of pulling into our new farm, two of our three neighbors came over to exchange phone numbers and ask if we needed anything. Five days later, one of them was discing and prepping our growing field for us since we didn't have a tractor. When living in California, [my husband] Steve never understood why I would wave to everyone we passed when driving down a country road, or why I would start conversations with people in the checkout line. Now, he gets it; it's a Southern thing.
Rinne: Do you have a favorite flower on the farm?
Mandy: Favorite flower is a tough question for me. I seem to love whatever flower is the most current in bloom. In late winter, it's daffodils, then flowering branches, then tulips and anemones and so on. At this moment, I'm loving the ranunculus we've been harvesting, but tomorrow it could be the cosmos just starting to open. My favorite flower choices progress like this until fall, when dahlias make their appearance. When we're ready to be finished with the season-- when insect pressure, heat, and humidity are high-- the dahlias show up to lift our spirits.
Mandy: Even though we both love our jobs, the day to day can sometimes be taxing. How do you stay interested and inspired?
Rinne: Yes, indeed...working for yourself makes for long days, but it is so worth it. I love that I get to live in my hometown of Athens, close to my family. I also love that my job allows me to work with people that I admire, and that it allows me to spend time with my young children. I stay inspired by cross-pollinating with all the creative people around me. Athens is such a great, supportive community. Watching people like you, Steve, and our friends make their way is incredibly inspiring. Also, I get out in my yard a lot; being close to plants and digging in the dirt really rejuvenates me. And really, my children are the biggest inspiration-- they remind me of the importance of staying spontaneous and looking at things from different angles!
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