Stopping by with Lewis Miller
During this extraordinary moment—of both pause and activism—we asked writers, musicians, curators, and innovators to reflect on the power and memory of language, shared spaces, and this moment in time. Subscribe to the PSA newsletter for more Stopping By responses and to keep updated with the PSA.
Lewis Miller is the owner of Lewis Miller Design, one of the premiere floral design houses in New York City, with clients including Chanel, Harry Winston, and the Central Park Zoo. Miller is also the creator of The Flower Flash, street art installations made of flowers, often repurposed from events. These floral works of art are created in under 15 minutes and all made before dawn. The impetus for the Flower Flashe was to recreate just a sliver of that sentiment and offer it to everyday New Yorkers and tourists. His main vision and goal is to create an emotional response through flowers, to brighten and beautify someone’s day and to make them smile, the way one smiles when they witness a random act of kindness. Miller continues to flash New Yorkers with flowers and has flashed in Los Angeles, Miami, Charlottesville and Nashville. His goal is to continue this work and bring joy and surprise to urban neighborhoods and their city dwellers. His book, Styling Nature: A Masterful Approach to Floral Arrangement was published by Rizzoli in 2016.
What is the last thing you read that moved you?
The book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. There is a particularly moving account in Chapter 8 about a young boy named Ian E. Manuel who was incarcerated at age 13. He was sent to an adult prison and was placed in solitary confinement. He stayed in uninterrupted solitary confinement for eighteen years. A very smart and sensitive boy, he managed to educate himself by reading hundreds of books and wrote poetry and short stories. He wrote a beautiful poem called “Uncried Tears” that brought tears to my eyes.
What is a book that changed your life?
The book Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson. It follows the incredible relationship between three very different and introverted characters, and the writing is drenched in philosophy. I have not read a book so satisfying. It is immersive and every neuron in my brain was engaged. I devoured each page.
What is a book you think everyone should read?
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius because now more than ever we need to cultivate a sense of thoughtful reasoning. I think we could all benefit from a bit more reason, control and discipline. I love reading stoic philosophy because it is more of a mindset which I appreciate and respect.
What is your first memory of poetry?
The Proverbs of David. One of my favorites: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
The pandemic has emptied many public spaces (libraries, concert halls, museums, parks, transit systems, etc.). What space--and community--do you miss the most?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Public space is rife with words--signs, logos, advertisements. If you were to choose one poem or text to inscribe in a public place right now, what would that be? And where would you place it?
“The Desiderata,” by Max Ehrmann on every bus stop and subway station. I would slice the poem up and sprinkle and scatter the lines all around the city. There are so many gems and relevant sentiments that resonate deeply with the times we are living in right now.
Some of my favorite lines:
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”
Have you thought differently about the role and power of language and art in the wake of murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the wide-spread protests?
I think the power of action is important and that can be achieved through language and art.
Have you created something during the lockdown, or are you working on anything now?
Yes, I have been constantly working on Flower Flashes during lockdown. I don’t overthink what I make, but I do have a clearer appreciation of street art during this time. It’s important to bring communities together with shared experiences, but for New York City that was pretty impossible during the city’s shutdown. The incredible thing about our Flower Flashes is that they live on through photography and social media. If people can’t come together and view street art publicly, they can appreciate it online and share it through digital platforms and that is what has happened with our Flower Flashes. From Berlin to New Zealand, to Los Angeles, people have shared their appreciation for our fleeting floral installations by writing us letters and sending us emails. Their words are very inspiring, and I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to write to me.