Mindy Lam infuses spring into wearable art

The flowers tangle cheerfully together like meadow grass in the morning, glinting with dew, and a small bright frog is climbing up the stems. Jewelry artist and fashion designer Mindy Lam moves confidently among clothiers in Manhattan, museums of fine arts, Elle and Glamour and Vogue … and yet it feels natural to meet and her work in a garden.

Berkshire Botanical Garden is lively on a cool spring afternoon as she opens the spring with Flights of Fancy, the first in a summerlong series or artwork — from firefly photographs by Gregory Crewdson to outdoor sculpture from artists across the country.

In this first room, she has woven together leaves and flowers made of bright stones and wire and bees, butterflies, all of the living creatures in a garden.

People often come into a garden and hear the voices of birds, she told me, and sense creatures even when they can’t see them. In her work it can take a close look to see the creatures among the leaves, like sitting quietly by a pond, peering into the tall grass, waiting for the iridescent dart of a dragonfly or the ripple of a tadpole in the shallows.

She collects vintage pieces to set into her tall pins and brooches — a golden fish curls around blue glass. A chrysanthemum throws a supple shadow onto the cloth behind it, like an inkwash painting.

Before creating any project, she always wants to come to the place, see and feel it. Coming here moved her strongly, she says — in the middle of the pandemic, after months feeling confined, it felt freeing to walk into the garden and hear the birds singing even when the tees were bare.
She first saw the garden in November, and in its second spare room, the show moves with her from the winter garden into the spring garden. Flowers hang in the air like a mobile — cherry blossom and roses and buds.

When she comes into a new place, she says, into the garden and into this new body of work, she will meditate in the quiet, and new designs come to her. Sitting on the shore of a lake near here, she imagined a summer crown in reflected translucent blue.

It sits here on a window sill in the largest room, between tables set with mosses and quartz crystals, wide necklets and beaded deep green butterflies.

At the center of the room, a golden-bronze mannequin has become a sculpture in mosses and moths, petals and glimmering stones. She wears a gown made of wire lace, one of Lam’s signature creations.
Lam has known lace so delicate it will come apart at a touch, she says. This gown is airy and sturdy. It curves with the body in an open coppery weave, drawn together like a wraparound, and from throat to hem the seam lis lined with flowers as broad and many-petalled as peonies.

The color and shine stand out in Lam’s work, says Joanne Leonhardt Cassullo, the BBG Trustee who got to know her and introduced her to the garden — when Cassullo first saw one of Lam’s pieces, she says, she thought it bolder than what she often wears, and when she pinned it on she felt its bright confidence. She felt beautiful.

Here at the center of the room, the figure in this gown feels like Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, weight on one hip, one shoulder tilted, walking in the grass and swaying with the pleasure of the warm June night.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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